Giorgia Meloni waited until very late to cast her vote. She arrived at the polling station in darkness. But she was quickly illuminated by flashes from her phones and cameras. She has been thrust into the limelight.
Four years ago, Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party were both also-rans at the last general elections. They are now the largest party in the country and she will be the next prime minister, the first woman to do so in Italy history.
Italy will move to its right. It is not clear how far. To answer that question, you will need to figure out who Ms Meloni really is and what she doesn’t.
First let’s clarify that she is not a fascist. Yes, her party’s logo is a remnant of its fascist roots. And yes, Ms Meloni, a teenager, once expressed admiration for Mussolini leadership qualities.
She’s not a fascist. This is a term that gets used far too often.
However, she does hold strong right-wing views. She opposes gay adoption of children and idolizes the traditional strong, supportive Italian family unit. She was raised by a single mom and claims she was bullied as an infant.
She links illegal immigration with crime and prostitution and says she is against “woke political”, rallies about globalism’s effects and came up with her own slogan for home-grown populism, “Made in Italy”.
Is her political philosophy really unusual or extreme? She told me that she admires Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan when we spoke. She has made friendly connections with American Republicans and would like more to the Conservative party in Britain. She sees tax cuts, like Liz Truss does, as a crucial first step to proving her credentials.
She will have to pay for this largesse, just as the British prime minister. This is a problem for Ms Truss but it’s even more for Ms Meloni, as Italy’s national debt already exceeds 150% of its GDP.
Ms Meloni spoke about the building of infrastructure as a means to stimulate economic growth, and improving youth training programs. She also stated that she would continue Italy’s support for Ukraine. None of these plans will scare anyone.
Even more, she has forged an unlikely friendship to the outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He has been offering his thoughts on managing the Italian economy and maintaining decent relations with Europe. It is hard to believe that Mr Draghi, a still immensely popular figure, would offer a helping hand for someone he considered to be a danger to the country.
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She’s difficult to separate. She can be a ferocious speaker at rallies; she can also sound emollient or optimistic at other times. Ms Meloni stated that she views herself as a centre right politician, and said that only rival politicians should be afraid of her. She is certainly closer to the center than Matteo Salvini, her fierbrand coalition partner.
One of her biggest challenges will be managing the machinations and ambitions of Salvini, who wants to become interior minister and make an impact on immigration. Silvio Berlusconi will be her other coalition partner, and he is still the showman in Italian politics, so she will have to manage him.
Ms Meloni, however, will do this from a position that is strong. The disenchantment felt by the Italian people about their politicians is reflected in the low turnout and disillusionment during this election campaign – the worst in Italy’s history.
Five Star Movement, once so disruptive, has suffered a slump of popularity. There was also widespread anger that Mr Draghi was removed from office, even though he was not affiliated to any party.
The left wing of the nation failed to create a cohesive vision or a coalition.
Many Italians decided that even though they had 12 options, they didn’t want any of them and stayed home.
The only group that seemed excited about voting was those who wanted Ms Meloni’s right-wing coalition. The traditional conservative north had a higher turnout than the south which votes for left-wing parties.
Italy’s notoriously complicated political process will now proceed, before Ms Meloni can be named prime minister and allowed to fulfill her promises.
We’ll then find out what her choice of route is – a populist like Viktor Orban who wants to exert ever greater control, a pugilist like Mateusz Morawiecki in Poland, or a conservative voice like Liz Truss. Or maybe something completely different?
There has been a lot of gossip, praise, criticism, and speculation about Ms Meloni. She will be leading one of the most powerful and wealthy nations in the world, a G7 member country and the third largest economy in the EU. It’s important that Italy is represented, so we should be curious about Ms Meloni. We will soon find out in the next months.