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Italy Shifts to the Right With Election09/26 07:12

   

   ROME (AP) -- A party with neo-fascist roots, the Brothers of Italy, won the 
most votes in Italy's national elections, looking set to deliver the country's 
first far-right-led government since World War II and make its leader, Giorgia 
Meloni, Italy's first woman premier, near-final results showed Monday.

   Italy's lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe's geopolitics, 
placing a euroskeptic party in position to lead a founding member of the 
European Union and its third-largest economy. Right-wing leaders across Europe 
immediately hailed Meloni's victory and her party's meteoric rise as sending a 
historic message to Brussels, while Italy's left warned of "dark days" ahead 
and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

   Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting some 44% of the 
parliamentary vote, with Meloni's Brothers of Italy snatching some 26%. Her 
coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League of 
Matteo Salvini winning 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Premier 
Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8%.

   The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 
5-Star Movement -- which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary 
elections -- saw its share of the vote halved to some 15% this time around.

   Turnout was a historic low 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in 
protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the last three 
governments.

   Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian 
Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone in a victory speech early 
Monday, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

   "If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will 
do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people," 
Meloni said. "Italy chose us. We will not betray it as we never have."

   While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government 
is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with 
President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, outgoing Premier Mario Draghi 
remains in a caretaker role.

   The elections, which took place some six months early after Draghi's 
government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia's 
war in Ukraine and the related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary 
Italian pocketbooks as well as industry.

   A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy's current 
foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying 
Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russia's invasion, even as her coalition 
allies stake a slightly different tone.

   Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
While both have distanced themselves from his invasion, Salvini has warned that 
sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry, and even Berlusconi has 
excused Putin's invasion as foisted on him by pro-Moscow separatists in the 
Donbas.

   A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with European powers is 
likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to 
prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed 
screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, before they set out on smugglers' 
boats to Europe.

   Salvini made clear he wants the League to return to the interior ministry, 
where as minister he imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an 
internal leadership challenge after the League suffered an abysmal result of 
under 10%, with Meloni's party outperforming it in its northeastern stronghold.

   Salvini acknowledged the League was punished for its governing alliances 
with the 5-Stars and then Draghi, but said: "It's a good day for Italy because 
it has five years of stability ahead of it."

   On relations with the European Union, analysts note that for all her 
euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has 
little room to maneuver given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from 
Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured some 191.5 billion euros, 
the biggest chunk of the EU's 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound 
by certain reform and investment milestones it must hit to receive it all.

   That said, Meloni has criticized the EU's recent recommendation to suspend 
7.5 billion euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic 
backsliding, defending Viktor Orban as the elected leader in a democratic 
system.

   Orban's political director, Balazs Orban, was among the first to 
congratulate Meloni. "In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends 
who share a common vision and approach to Europe's challenges," he tweeted.

   French far-right leader Marine Le Pen praised Meloni for having "resisted 
the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union."

   Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain's far-right Vox opposition party, 
tweeted that Meloni "has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign 
nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody's security and prosperity."

   Meloni is chair of the right-wing European Conservative and Reformist group 
in the European Parliament, which gathers her Brothers of Italy, Poland's Law 
and Justice Party, Spain's Vox and the Sweden Democrats, which just won big in 
elections there on a platform of cracking down on crime and limiting 
immigration.

   "The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy," 
acknowledged Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, calling Monday a "sad day 
for Italy, for Europe."

   "We expect dark days. We fought in every way to avoid this outcome," Letta 
said at a somber news conference. While acknowledging the future of the party 
and his own future required reflection, he vowed: "The PD will not allow Italy 
to leave the heart of Europe."

   Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Rome's Luiss 
University and the executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, 
noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a consistent foreign and European 
policy that is in some ways bigger than individual party interests.

   "Whatever Meloni might be up to will have to be moderated by her coalition 
partners and indeed with the established consensus of Italian foreign policy," 
Christiansen said in an interview.

   Meloni proudly touts her roots as a militant in the neo-fascist Italian 
Social Movement, or MSI, which was formed in the aftermath of WWII with the 
remnants of Mussolini's fascist supporters. Meloni joined in 1992 as a 
15-year-old.

   During the campaign, Meloni was forced to respond after the Democrats used 
her party's origins to paint Meloni as a danger to democracy.

   "The Italian Right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, 
unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious 
anti-Jewish laws," she said in a multilingual campaign video.

 
 
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