Italians are voting in an election expected to produce the country’s most radical right-wing government since World War II and a prime minister poised to become a role model for nationalist parties Europe.

The coalition is led by Georgia Maloney Brothers of ItalyThe party with neo-fascist origins is expected to secure a comfortable victory in both houses of parliament, with 44 to 47 percent of the vote, according to polls ahead of the vote.

Meloni’s party is also set to win the largest share of the vote in a coalition that includes the far-right League led by Matteo Salvini and Forza Italia led by Silvio Berlusconimeaning she could become Italy’s first female prime minister.

The coalition victory, however, raises questions about the country’s alliances in Europe, and while Meloni has sought to send encouraging messages, her takeover is unlikely to be welcomed in Paris or Berlin.

Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party warned last week that its victory would be bad for European cooperation. Lars Klingbeil, chairman of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD, said Meloni had joined “anti-democratic” figures such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Earlier this month, Meloni’s MEPs voted against a resolution that condemned Hungary as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. Maloney is also linked to Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats and Spain’s far-right Vox party.

The 45-year-old politician from Rome received support from Vox at the end of her campaign and responded by saying that both parties are bound by “mutual respect, friendship and loyalty” and hoping for a victory for the Brothers Italy will give Vox some weight in Spain.

“Meloni has ambitions to present a model not only for Italy, but also for Europe – this is something new [for the right in Italy] compared to the past,” said Nadia Urbinati, a political theorist at New York’s Columbia University and the University of Bologna. “She has contacts with other conservative parties who want a Europe with less civil rights … the model is there, and so is the project.”

Mattia Dilletti, a politics professor at Rome’s Sapienza University, said Meloni would win because of her ability to be ideological but pragmatic, something that allowed her to oust French far-right leader Marine Le Pen as leader of Western Europe. a model of nationalism.

However, it is unlikely to rock the boat, at least initially, as it looks to secure steady cash flows under Italy’s €191.5bn (£166bn) EU Covid recovery plan, the largest in EU. The coalition said it was not seeking to revise the plan, but would like to see changes made.

Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgia Meloni and Maurizio Lupi attend a political meeting organized by the right-wing political alliance in Rome on Thursday. Photo: Riccardo Fabi/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

“Ambiguity is the key to understanding Meloni,” Diletti said. “She is really interested in reaching a compromise with the EU in economic policy. But if the EU imposes the Italian government on her too much, she can always return to her safe zone as the leader of right-wing populism. She will do what she needs to stay in power.”

Salvini’s potential return to the interior ministry would also dampen hopes of a breakthrough in the EU’s long-stalled attempt to reform its migration system by distributing asylum seekers among member states. Salvini, who has close ties to Le Pen, said he “can’t wait” to resume his policy of blocking migrant rescue boats from entering Italian ports.

On Ukraine, Meloni has condemned Russia’s invasion and supported sending weapons to the war-torn country, but it remains unclear whether her government will support the eighth round of EU sanctions being discussed in Brussels. Salvini argued that the sanctions had brought Italy to its knees, although he never blocked any EU action against Russia when he was in Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government, which collapsed in July.

Voting began at 7am on Sunday and by midday turnout was around 19%. The share of undecided voters before the start of voting was 25%, which means that the right-wing alliance could get a smaller majority than pollsters had initially predicted. It is predicted that the left alliance led by the Democratic Party will receive 17-20% of the votes.

Several seats in Italy’s southern regions, such as Apulia and Calabria, are also potentially in play following a populist mini-resurgence Five Star Movementwhich has regained support after pledging to keep its flagship policy, Mainstream Income, if the party re-enters government.

There was a steady flow of voters into the booth in the Esquiline, Rome’s multicultural district, on Sunday morning, but the mood was desperate.

“It feels like we’re on a boat without a rudder,” said Carlo Russo. “During the election campaign, we heard not an exchange of ideas, but an exchange of insults between different parties. And in such moments of confusion, people vote for whoever seems to be the strongest.”

Fausto Macari, who runs a newsstand, said he would not vote for the right but was not sure who he would support. “The choice is bad,” added Macari, who is 60 years old. “For example, I look at Berlusconi and he reminds me of a comic character. At his age, he should not be involved in politics. It would be like trying to be a footballer like Maradona at my age.”

Many Italians who support Meloni do so because she has not yet been vetted in government and are drawn to her determination and loyalty to her ideals.

“She presents herself as a capable but not arrogant woman,” Urbinati said. “She’s task-oriented and dedicated, but without that male adrenaline rush that wants power at all costs.”

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