When it comes to portraying a unified front, the left has failed again. The Italian right wingers are confidently rolling up their sleeves, ready to celebrate a sure victory.

Giorgia Meloni
[Giorgia Meloni]

Is it too late to enter the race? Italians vote for a new parliament on September 25; if polling data are to be believed, the outcome is already set in stone. Giorgia Meloni, head of the most powerful right-wing group, the post-fascist Fratelli d'Italia (FdI; "Brothers of Italy"), might become Italy's next prime minister if the right wins an overall majority.

There seems to be no obvious reason why the right should have triumphed already at first view. According to recent surveys, Meloni's FdI receives 25–26%, Matteo Salvini's right-wing populist and Eurosceptic Lega trades at 12%, and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia is predicted to get 7%–8%. The best that the right side can hope for is a majority of around 46%.

But forces to the left of the political center have lately attained a remarkably comparable level, hovering around 45%. The Movimento 5 ("Five Star Movement") led by ex-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is anticipated to get 12 percent of the vote, the Partito Democratico (PD) led by Enrico Letta is predicted to receive 20 to 22 percent, and its associated minor parties are predicted to receive another 6 percent.

It seems to be a close contest, similar to the one in 2006, when the center-left coalition headed by Romano Prodi narrowly beat the center-right group led by Silvio Berlusconi. Unlike previous close elections, however, this one is not anticipated to end in a photo finish due to the fact that the right is solidly behind one candidate while the center-left is split down the middle.

By allocating 37% of seats in the House of Representatives and Senate using the first-past-the-post system in one-person districts, Italian electoral law fosters unity and punishes discord. The right is running a single national candidate, while the center-left is running three candidates each constituency (one each for the Democratic Party and its tiny associated parties, the Five Star Movement, and the Azione-I list association talia viva). As a result, it is anticipated that the right will get a majority of direct mandates and will secure at least 60% of parliamentary seats.

For good reason, this is a right that has Europeans worried. Berlusconi is attempting to reassure the rest of Europe by claiming that the dependability of his party, Forza Italia, is guaranteed since it is a member of the European People's Party family of parties. However, the Lega and the FdI have decisively outpaced Forza Italia, which is in the liberal-conservative tradition, making Berlusconi the center-right camp's weaker partner.

In previous years, the Lega scored with this course. It had evolved as a movement defending the prosperous North's interests against the country's "thieving Rome" and "parasitic South" to the brink of secessionism under Salvini's party leadership from 2013 onwards. The Lega evolved overnight into an ultra-nationalist movement ("Italians first"), and its new adversaries were migrants and foreign "elites," most notably Brussels. With this strategy, Salvini garnered 17 percent of the Lega vote in 2018, which was still 4 Pro in 2013. He then created the five-star coalition led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and assumed the role of interior minister, which he used to implement his anti-immigrant "closed ports" policy. All of this propelled him to a spectacular 34 percent in the 2019 European elections, following which he disbanded the alliance with the five stars with the expectation of holding fresh elections right away. However, this ambition was destroyed when the M5S formed a coalition with the PD, once again led by Conte.

The Lega's consensus disintegrated in favor of Meloni's FdI during the following three years. Programmatically, the two parties are extremely similar: they support "traditional values," which means they oppose LGBTIQ* rights, they oppose immigration, and they don't like the EU's existing constitution. Meloni, on the other hand, has always been "coherent" in the eyes of the right-wing electorate and has been in opposition to all governments over the last ten years, while the Lega recently joined the emergency coalition that has been in government since February 2021 national unity under Mario Draghi. As a consequence, Meloni emerged as the new right-wing hope.

Meloni is fully aware of the fears she arouses outside the borders, particularly in Europe, and is therefore running an election campaign that is utterly untypical for a populist, with the primary goal of sending out comforting messages. She never tires of reiterating that Italy would stay steadfast in its support for Ukraine and fulfillment of its European duties under her leadership, and that she cannot make any great promises to people - while Berlusconi and Salvini, as usual, outdo each other with tax cuts.

The election campaign plainly demonstrates that she has the strongest chance of becoming Rome's next prime minister. On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the issue today is whether center-left forces might have avoided such a catastrophe.

After all, the PD and the Five Stars had both been working for more than three years, since the formation of their governing coalition in the summer of 2019, to form a progressive alliance, and PD leader Letta wanted campo largo, "wide field," with the broad centre-left alliance, to stand in the next elections. But the two parties split in July 2022, when the Five Stars quit the emergency government led by Draghi and Conte, who had become their party leader in the meanwhile. Letta's PD, on the other hand, fought hard to keep this coalition together - and following its rupture, the partnership with the Five Stars was tossed overboard.

Since then, instead of collaborating, the two parties have been competing, mostly on the left. Both depend on a progressive image and seek to attract to those in the lower and medium income brackets. In the political center, the PD faces challenge from the Azione- Italia Viva list, which advocates a reformist policy similar to that of Emmanuel Macron. To the joy of Meloni, Salvini, and Berlusconi, the centre-left groups are campaigning mostly among themselves rather than establishing a coalition against Fratelli d'Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia. 

The author Dr. Michael Braun studied political science and earned his PhD on Italian labor unions. He works for the FES Rome and is a reporter for the TAZ in Italy.

Through IPG

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