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Italians cast vote for new parliament

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-26 09:16

A voter drops a ballot into a box at a polling station during the snap election in Rome on Sunday. REMO CASILLI/REUTERS

Country tipped to shift to the right and to have its first woman prime minister

Italy was forecast to elect its first far-right female prime minister when voting for the national election in the European Union's third-biggest economy opened on Sunday.

A right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy was on course to win, according to opinion polls before the vote.

The election was being seen as a pivotal moment for Italy and for the EU, as the bloc struggles with soaring inflation, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine rages and a winter energy crisis looms.

The result of the election will be regarded as an indicator of whether hard-right sentiment is gaining more traction in the 27-nation bloc, The Associated Press reported.

No single party was forecast to win enough seats to govern alone so the right-wing and centrists had made a deal that was predicted to carry Meloni to power.

Brothers of Italy won a little more than 4 percent of votes in the 2018 election, but recent polls had shown the party could take as much as 25 percent in this election.

Key issues for voters also included reducing unemployment in the south of the country and introducing a legal minimum wage, the Financial Times reported.

The right-wing coalition has drawn criticism from outside the country.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen drew the wrath of Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, after she appeared to raise concerns about Italy's potential tilt to the right and an apparent suggestion it could lead to the demise of democratic principles.

In a speech on Thursday, von der Leyen said: "Democracy is a constant work in progress; we're never done; it's never safe."

The US website Politico said her comments were a hint that the EU could cut funds to Italy if it were deemed to be violating the bloc's democratic standards.

Salvini said her comments amounted to an "unprecedented threat" on the eve of a sovereign country's election, although Meloni dismissed them.

Right-leaning elements in Italy have expressed support for policies of the right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland, which challenges unity within the EU, The Associated Press reported. With an election victory, Italy's right could start to align with these countries on topics such as the rule of law and social policy, as well as migration, the FT said.

The FT said many Italians remain frustrated by the breakdown of Prime Minister Mario Draghi's national unity government this summer. In July, Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi and Giuseppe Conte, leader of the Five-Star Movement, removed their support for Draghi in a confidence vote, paving the way for early elections, which had been planned for next spring.

Draghi is not running in the election, although a liberal coalition including the former prime minister Matteo Renzi and Carlo Calenda, a member of the European Parliament, is campaigning on his policy proposals. The alliance has vowed to reinstate him as prime minister should it win, although it was forecast to take less than 10 percent of the vote.

Turnout was expected to be the lowest since the first general election in postwar Italy, with the FT reporting that fewer than 65 percent of the eligible 51 million voters would vote.

Italians were to elect new lawmakers for both arms of the Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The first indication of the winner was expected to emerge late on Sunday, with the official result being announced on Monday.

President Sergio Mattarella will appoint a new prime minister based on the outcome. The process to form a coalition and name the new prime minister was expected to last until at least the middle of October, Sky News reported.

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