Giorgia Meloni led her right-wing allies in a joint rally Thursday ahead of their expected victory in the weekend elections, in which the former Mussolini supporter hopes to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy are campaigning for Sunday’s vote in a coalition with Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
But opinion polls gave her a good head start, suggesting she will lead Italy’s first far-right government since the fall of dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
“We’re ready! You’ll see on Sunday,” she declared to the packed crowd in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, most of them waving the flags of the Brothers of Italy.
Despite tensions within her alliance, she promised to rule for five years with a program that includes low taxes, higher social spending and a strong defense of Italy’s interests on the world stage.
Elections are being closely watched in Brussels, where the prospect of a Eurosceptic, populist government at the head of the eurozone’s third-largest economy has raised concerns.
Meloni, 45, has tried to reassure investors concerned about her ties to the post-fascist movement in Italy, while simultaneously wooing voters dissatisfied with the status quo.
“I vote for Meloni, she never betrayed me,” Giuli Ruggeri, a 53-year-old unemployed supporter, told AFP at the meeting in Rome.
The event marked the start of a final sprint for Italian politicians for a weekend campaign blackout.
Meloni heads to Naples on Friday, amid indications that the populist Five Star Movement — which won the bulk of the vote in 2018 — is gaining ground in the penniless south.
Runaway inflation, a looming winter energy crisis and tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine have dominated the election campaign in Italy, which has only just recovered from the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.
Europe also loomed large, with Italy set to receive nearly 200 billion euros ($200 billion) in post-pandemic funds from the EU by 2026 in exchange for structural reforms long demanded by Brussels.
Meloni is no longer pushing for an exit from the euro, but vowed Thursday to lead an Italy “strong, serious and respected on the international stage” as the right-wing coalition’s program calls for a review of EU rules for government spending.
However, coalition members do not always agree, raising concerns about the stability of their possible future government.
Meloni and Salvini both pursue a nationalist agenda and demand an end to mass migration, while emphasizing Italy’s traditional family values and ‘Judeo-Christian’ past.
But while Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized Western sanctions against Ukraine, Meloni is a strong supporter of Kiev and their coalition is committed to NATO.
The Russian embassy in Italy tweeted four photos on Thursday showing Putin with nearly all party leaders on Sunday — with the notable exception of Meloni.
“From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We have some memories,” the embassy wrote, in what was widely seen as some sort of pre-election trolling.
The rally was the first appearance of its kind for Berlusconi, who turns 86 next week, and he seemed to need help getting on the podium.
“Italy doesn’t want to be ruled by the left,” the former billionaire and media mogul declared, pledging to fight “fiscal oppression”.
Next up was Salvini, who vowed to “protect Italy and the Italians” in an extended speech against Europe, migrants, taxes and multinationals.
The League’s leader has been somewhat overshadowed by Meloni, whose candid style and outsider status have propelled her party to the brink of power.
In the 2018 elections, the Brothers of Italy – born ten years ago of the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of Mussolini – won just over four percent of the vote.
Her popularity skyrocketed after Meloni became the only main party leader not to join outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity coalition in February 2021, leaving her the only effective opposition.
Draghi called snap elections in July after his coalition collapsed.
Brothers of Italy last stood at about 24-25 percent, ahead of the center-left Democratic Party at 21 or 22 percent, followed by Five Star at 13-15 percent.
With the League around 12 percent and Berlusconi’s party at eight percent, Meloni’s coalition seems on track to secure between 45 and 55 percent of the seats in parliament.
But with 40 percent of Italians saying they have yet to decide whether or not to vote, experts warn there is still room for some unrest in a country known for its unstable politics, with nearly 70 governments since 1946.