Millions of Italians are voting in an election that could see the far-right coalition led by Giorgia Meloni win power.
Rome Italy – Polls across Italy opened in the early hours of Sunday with millions of Italians ready to cast their ballots in a national election expected to bring the country’s most right-wing government since World War Two to power.
The election campaign began over the summer after political infighting led to the collapse of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government in July.
More than 50 million Italians with the right to vote, including 4.7 million living abroad, will elect new representatives of a reduced parliament: 200 members for the Senate and 400 for the Chamber of Deputies.
The polls opened at 7:00 am and will close at 11:00 pm local time (05:00 – 21:00 GMT).
Exit polls are expected later that day, but official results won’t be announced until Monday.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, has been dominating the campaign, with 25 percent in the polls, according to the latest poll released before the September 10 pre-election ban.
This would put Meloni on track to become Italy’s first female prime minister at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes anti-immigration populist Matteo Salvini and octogenarian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.
The rival Democratic Party led by Enrico Letta, with 22 percent of the polls, has failed to forge a broad alliance with other center and left parties, reducing its chances of winning the election.
Giuseppe Conte’s Five Star Movement, which observers considered a moribund party, was winning 13 percent of the polls after a strong campaign in the south of the country.
Italy’s elections are taking place amid an acute energy crisis, widespread disillusionment about politicians’ views and doubts about the country’s future stance towards the European Union.
While the right-wing coalition has maintained a united front on certain flagship policies, including opposition to “illegal immigrants” and tax cuts, cracks have appeared in fiscal and foreign policy.
Meloni has stuck to Draghi’s line: refusing to add to Italy’s record debt while insisting on capping the price of gas and decoupling it from energy costs. Salvini takes a different view, pushing for 30 billion euros ($29 billion) of more debt to help struggling businesses and families.
The coalition also appears divided over Italy’s approach to Russia.
Meloni has strongly supported sanctions against Moscow, while Salvini insisted they should be reconsidered. Berlusconi, a longtime friend of President Valdimir Putin, was in the spotlight Thursday night after suggesting the Russian leader just wanted to replace Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a government “made up of decent people.”
Another point of contention is Meloni’s position on the European Union.
Meloni, who co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 from the ashes of a failed fascist party, for years delivered high-decibel speeches against the EU and international financial markets, describing them as enemies of Italy’s national interests.
But as the prospect of becoming prime minister looms, at a time when Italy receives much-needed EU funds to prop up its underperforming economy, the 45-year-old has softened her tone. She has repeatedly pledged her commitment to the bloc and her support for Ukraine, including upholding sanctions imposed on Russia after she invaded her neighbor in February.
Although results are expected on Monday, it will be weeks before a new government is installed.
Once the results are confirmed, the new legislators will vote for the presidents of the two chambers, who will begin, together with the party leaders, consultations with President Sergio Mattarella.
The head of state will then task a prime minister with presenting a list of ministers who must be confirmed by the president and then approved by parliament through a vote of confidence.
Observers say Italians are likely to see a new government come mid-November.
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