Italians braced for seismic shifts yesterday on the eve of an election forecast that would give Italy the most right-wing government since World War II.
Out with the internationally respected Mario Draghi and in – according to polls – Eurosceptic Giorgia Meloni, leader of the post-fascist party Brothers of Italy, widely touted as the country’s first woman to head a government.
“The country is eager for a change, a new face,” Wolfango Piccoli of London-based political risk consultancy Teneo told AFP.
Italy is grappling with a series of crises, from rampant inflation and extreme weather events linked to climate change, to an energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.
The campaign sparked by Draghi’s ouster in July ended on Friday, giving Italians a day’s respite as campaigning is banned pending a vote.
People speaking to AFP in Rome yesterday said they were uncertain about the day before the election as the latest polls show the party of the Brothers of Italy is likely to win and form a government.
“I worry that the polls will win out for the right-wing, especially Giorgia Meloni,” said Maria Tasca, a 27-year-old student originally from Sicily.
“From what she said about women’s rights, youth rights and rights in general, I see things go back at least 50 years,” Tasca added.
“The problems are worldwide, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But sometimes you have to change,” said a 75-year-old shopkeeper, who only used Dante as his name.
Meloni, 45, has worked hard in recent weeks to reassure shy investors and a worried Brussels that her party’s historical ties to supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini are a thing of the past.
Softening her tone, she posted a video on TikTok of herself making traditional pastries from the Puglia region. But she channeled the warrior Aragorn from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings on Thursday at the closing rally for the right-wing coalition uniting her brothers of Italy with Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League party and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
The self-proclaimed “Christian mother” seamlessly transitioned from fantasy king to blaming the left for the country’s “drug dealers, thieves, rapists and the mafia,” adding, “This Italy ends on Sunday.”
Berlusconi, 85, was by her side.
The media mogul – who is on trial and accused of bribing starlets to keep from testifying about his allegedly erotic parties – has campaigned mostly online, courting grandmothers and housewives with promises of stay-at-home salaries.
He’s also been following the youth vote with some TikTok jokes – including one about not trying to steal her girlfriends.
During the race, parties tried to persuade voters with ideas such as sending goods from northern to southern Italy via metro and fighting climate change with cannabis.
Former interior minister Salvini, 49, campaigned under the slogan “Credo” (I think) and earned him a censure from the Catholic Church.
Fearful of losing a sizeable chunk of his supporters to Meloni, Salvini has tried to differentiate himself by calling for an end to sanctions on Russia and railing against Brussels.
However, the end of his campaign was overshadowed by a video clip in which he described a blind league candidate as having an “eye for Italians” on Thursday.
Center left Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party (PD), rocked to his latest rally in an electric van – reminding voters of his earlier efforts to promote green transport when his electric campaign bus ran out of battery.
His main competitor for votes on the left, Giuseppe Conte, leader of the populist Five Star Movement, seemed to hold out longer.
He has been photographed so many times standing head and shoulders above the crowd amidst a crowd of supporters that the media has dubbed him the “Traveling Madonna”.