Italians are voting on Sunday in an election that could swing the country’s politics sharply to the right at a critical time for Europe, as war in Ukraine sends energy costs skyrocketing and tests the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression.
The paper ballot count was due to begin shortly after polling stations close at 11pm, with forecasts based on partial results coming early Monday.
Before the publication of opinion polls was banned 15 days ago, far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her party, the Brothers of Italy, led the way in popularity, hinting that Italians were ready to elect their first far-right government since World War II to power .
Ex-Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his centre-left Democratic Party followed closely behind.
Ms Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with anti-migrant league leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister who heads the Forza Italia party he founded three decades ago.
Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign coalitions, which means the Democrats are disadvantaged, having failed to forge a similarly broad alliance with left-wing populists and centrists.
If Ms Meloni becomes Prime Minister, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold the post. But putting together a viable governing coalition could take weeks.
Almost 51 million Italians were eligible to vote.
Pollsters, however, predicted turnout in the last general election in 2018 could fall even below a record low of 73 percent.
They say despite the many crises in Europe, many voters feel alienated from politics as Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election – each led by someone who had not run for office.
The elections were held six months early after Mario Draghi’s pandemic unity government collapsed in late July. Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella saw no alternative to new elections.
According to opinion polls, Mr Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank, was extremely popular.
But the three populist parties in the coalition boycotted a confidence vote linked to an energy relief measure.
Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and the leader of the 5 Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister whose party is the largest in the outgoing parliament, saw Ms Meloni’s popularity rise while hers fell.
She kept her Italian brothers in opposition and refused to join Mr Draghi’s unity government or Mr Conte’s two coalitions that governed after the 2018 vote.
She further distanced herself from Mr Salvini and Mr Berlusconi with their relentless support for Ukraine, including supplying arms to Kyiv to defend itself against Russia. Your nationalist party advocates for sovereignty.
Before the Russian invasion, Mr Salvini and Mr Berlusconi had praised Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the final days of the election campaign, Mr Salvini criticized Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
Many factories in Italy are facing cutbacks – some have already reduced production – and other companies could close as they grapple with gas and electricity bills 10 times higher than a year ago.
Despite their political leanings, the main candidates agreed on the urgency of an EU-wide price cap for energy prices or, failing that, a national one.
Mr Draghi, who will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is sworn in, had been pressuring EU authorities in Brussels for the same remedy for months.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/italians-vote-in-election-that-could-take-far-right-to-power-42015323.html Italians are voting in elections that could put the far-right in power