ROME (TSWT) — The top candidates in Sunday’s general election in Italy to elect a new parliament and determine who will rule the country next are some well-known names and some lesser-known ones. They range from three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to far-right opposition leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading the way in opinion polls and planning to become Italy’s first woman to hold the premiership.
These are the key players in the September 25 elections:
Meloni has been high in voter polls for weeks, becoming arguably Italy’s first far-right prime minister since the end of World War II, and the first ever female leader. Her Brothers of Italy party has become hugely popular since the 2018 vote, when it polled just over 4%.
In the now-expiring term of office, Meloni refused her party, which she co-founded in 2012, to join any coalition government, including the pandemic unity government under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
At 45, Meloni would also be one of Italy’s youngest prime ministers. She argues that the European Union is too bureaucratic, but has said she would not push for an “Italexit” – taking the country out of the shared euro currency – and presents herself as a staunch supporter of NATO. She opposes what she calls LGBT lobbies and promotes what she believes to be Europe’s ‘Christian identity’.
But in stark contrast to her fellow leaders on Italy’s right — anti-migrant Matteo Salvini and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who have both openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin — Meloni supports military aid to Ukraine.
She is haunted by claims that she has not made an unequivocal break from her party’s neo-fascist roots.
Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy’s main center-left force, is Meloni’s main election rival.
Letta served as prime minister in a coalition with center-right forces after a 2013 election failed to yield a clear majority. But he lost the premiership after just 10 months when an ambitious fellow Democrat, Matteo Renzi, maneuvered to take the office for himself.
Burnt by the impeachment, Letta set out to teach in Paris at the prestigious Sciences Po University. With a power struggle chronically plaguing Democrats, he returned to Italy in March 2021 to take back the reins of the party.
Letta was thwarted in his quest to build a solid center-left electoral alliance to challenge Meloni and her allies when the populist five-star movement, the largest party in the outgoing parliament, helped topple Draghi’s government this summer. .
Salvini, the 49-year-old leader of the League party, was the undisputed face of the right-wing leadership in Italy until Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party took off.
His party has roots in the industrial north of Italy. As a surprise move, he struck a deal in 2018 to rule with the five-star movement, even after laughing at the populist forces. Just over a year later, he maneuvered to oust five-star leader Giuseppe Conte from the premiership so he could take the office for himself. But Conte outsmarted Salvini and struck his own deal with the Democratic Party, forming a coalition government that left the League in opposition.
As interior minister in Conte’s first government, Salvini continued his hard line against migrants, especially those who arrived in the tens of thousands in smuggler boats launched from Libya. Under his tenure, migrants rescued by humanitarian ships were held aboard the overcrowded ships for days or weeks because he refused to let them disembark quickly. Prosecutors in Sicily had charged him with kidnapping for his policies. In one case he was found innocent; another trial in Palermo is still ongoing.
Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he founded his own party, naming it Forza Italia after a football cheer at the stadium. With his 86th birthday on September 29 and the popularity of Forza Italia having waned in recent years, the former three-term prime minister is not aiming for a fourth term, but is instead hoping for a seat in the Senate. Nearly a decade ago, the Senate expelled him from a conviction for tax fraud stemming from his media empire.
Berlusconi promises to exert a moderating influence on the two larger parties in the right-wing alliance: those of Meloni and Salvini.
Berlusconi’s last premiership ended abruptly in 2011 when financial markets lost confidence that the billionaire media mogul could manage his country’s finances during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
Conte, now 58, who specializes in mediation, was plucked from political obscurity to become prime minister in 2018 after the populist, Eurosceptic five-star movement he now leads stunned Italy’s establishment by winning nearly 33% of the vote to become the largest party. of Parliament. When neither the then 5-star leader Luigi Di Maio nor the right-wing leader Matteo Salvini wondered who would become prime minister, Conte got the job.
About 15 months later, Conte’s government collapsed when Salvini made a failed move to take the premiership for himself. But Conte outwitted Salvini by forming a new government that replaced the League with the center-left Democratic Party.
Beginning his second term as prime minister, Italy became the first country in the West to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conte has enforced one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. But in January 2021, 16 months after Conte’s second government, it collapsed after Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister, ripped his small centrist party out of the coalition.
Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.