Exit poll: Italian far-right leader’s alliance leads vote

Associated press

ROME (AP) — Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni’s electoral alliance appears to hold a large lead in Italy’s national vote, a state television exit poll suggested Sunday night after a record turnout .

State broadcaster Rai said Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, in alliance with two right-wing parties, appeared to be heading for 45% of the vote in both houses of parliament. The closest candidate appeared to be former Democratic Party Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s centre-left alliance, which the exit poll showed as high as 29.5%. Rai said the poll had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Meloni, 45, would be well-placed to become Italy’s first far-right prime minister since the end of World War II and the country’s first woman to hold the post. His party, with neo-fascist roots, is expected to form a coalition with its main allies, the leader of the Anti-Migrant League Matteo Salvini and the former conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to obtain a solid majority in Parliament.

Meloni’s meteoric rise to the European Union’s third-largest economy comes at a critical time, when much of the continent is under the weight of rising energy bills, a fallout from the war in Ukraine, and the determination of the West to stand united against Russian aggression is being tested.

The same exit poll indicated that Meloni’s party appeared to have won 22-26% of the vote, while the center-left Letta Democrats appeared to be heading for 17-21%.

The counting of the paper ballots began immediately after the closing of the polls and should last until Monday morning.

It could take weeks before Italy has a new coalition government convened and sworn in.

More than a third of the 50.9 million eligible voters boycotted the poll. The final turnout was 64%, according to the Interior Ministry. This is well below the previous record low turnout of 73% in the last election in 2018.

Meloni had no immediate comment after the announcement of the exit poll on state television RAI. But earlier, she tweeted to Italian voters: “Today you can help write history.”

Meloni’s party was forged from the legacy of a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the war by those nostalgic for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign alliance. Meloni was encouraged ahead of the vote by joining his campaign forces with two longtime admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin – Salvini and Berlusconi. She herself is a strong supporter of supplying arms to Ukraine to defend itself against attacks launched by Russia.

Democrats came to the vote at a distinct disadvantage as they failed to secure such a broad alliance with populists and left-wing centrists.

Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election – each led by someone who did not run for office, and that appears to have alienated many voters, pollsters say.

“I hope we will see honest people, and it’s very difficult these days,” Adriana Gherdo said at a polling station in Rome.

What kind of government the euro zone’s third-largest economy might have was being watched closely in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and his ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary due to concerns about democratic backsliding and possible mismanagement of EU money. .

Sunday’s election was held six months earlier after the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s pandemic unity government, which enjoyed great popularity among citizens, in late July.

But the three populist parties in his coalition boycotted a vote of confidence linked to an energy aid measure. Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and the leader of the Five Star Movement Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister whose party is the largest in the outgoing parliament, have seen Meloni’s popularity rise while theirs decline.

Meloni kept his Italy Brothers party in opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or Conte’s two coalitions that governed after the 2018 vote.

Italian businesses and households are struggling to pay gas and electricity bills, which are sometimes 10 times higher than last year.

Draghi remains as caretaker until a new government is sworn in.