Voters in Italy are set to go to the polls Sunday for the closest-watched election in the country’s recent history, with polls suggesting the country is likely to elect its most hard-right government since the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in World War II—giving Western observers plenty of reasons to be concerned, such as these.
It could weaken ties with Western leaders. The populist leanings of the expected right-wing coalition government will align more with conservative, authoritarian figures, rather than relative moderates on the international stage like President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron. Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party and likely next prime minister, has spoken glowingly in the past of Hungarian strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban, calling him “a gentleman who won elections several times according to the rules.”
Italy’s support for Ukraine could weaken. Meloni has insisted she will maintain Italy’s strong support for Ukraine, including sanctions against Russia. But cracks have emerged recently in her ranks. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who leads the Forza Italia party slated to join the right-wing coalition, appeared to defend Putin during an appearance on Italian TV this week, saying he was “pushed” into invading Ukraine.
It could spark another far-right wave sweeping Europe. Observers note that Italian elections in the past have often served as a bellwether for broader trends across Europe, with the most notorious example being the rise of Italian fascists in the 1920s ahead of Nazis winning power in Germany a decade later. A win for the hard-right coalition would also come just over a week after right-wing nationalists won power in Sweden.
It could harm the economy. The coalition’s vow to cut taxes while increasing spending is alarming to many financial experts. Meloni has also signaled she plans to fight against the European Union’s overspending rules.
LGBTQ rights could face new threats. Meloni has used her rallies to speak out against groups she believes are societal ills, including the “LGBT lobby.” One of her top aides said in an interview this week that same-sex partnerships are “wrong.” Italy legalized same-sex civil unions in 2016.
Abortion rights may be threatened. The coalition parties—Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia and Lega—have a history of opposing abortion. Meloni has promised to not outlaw abortion but her party has a stated goal to “improve” abortion laws by ensuring “alternatives to abortion.”
It might encourage a push even more to the right. Brothers of Italy has its roots in a group that saw itself as a successor to Mussolini’s Republican Fascist Party, though Meloni has distanced herself from the fascist label. But the party suspended one of its candidates earlier this week after social media posts were uncovered showing him calling Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler a “great statesman” and lauding Meloni as a “modern fascist.”
The White House doesn’t seem too concerned with a potential hard-right Italian government. A senior administration official told reporters during a press briefing this week that the “’sky is falling’ narrative out there about the Italian election doesn’t square with our expectations of what’s likely to unfold.”
Italian President Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament in July and called for a snap election after Prime Minister Mario Draghi did not win an absolute majority in a confidence vote taken by lawmakers. The move came after months of growing tensions over Draghi’s economic policies, especially in regard to Covid relief spending plans.
Brothers of Italy is expected to land the most votes in Sunday’s election after hardly having a presence in the 2018 Italian general election. The party polled at just over 4% of the vote four years ago, but it has rapidly grown under Meloni’s leadership and her promotion of what she sees as traditional Italian values.
Far-Right Party Poised To Win Italy’s Election Suspends Candidate Who Praised Hitler And Putin (Forbes)
Why Italy’s Far-Right Virus Threatens Europe’s Body Politic (Bloomberg)
Giorgia Meloni: the far-right firebrand poised to be Italy’s next premier (Financial Times)