Neither Italy’s establishment politicians or their European counterparts are sitting entirely comfortably today, on the date of the nation’s general election. Pre-election polls placed the recently formed right-wing alliance between the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia at more than 46% of the vote, leaving Democratic Party leader and former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta and his left-wing allies quaking in their boots at the prospect of a populist triumph.
“Italy runs a big risk if it puts itself in the hands of the friends of Trump and Putin,” Letta said. (Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni has openly expressed admiration of the former U.S. president, and Salvini and Berlusconi have cordial relationships with the Russian leader.) A potential far-right Italian government also poses a “big risk” to the wider European project, Letta worried. “There has never been a major European country governed by political forces so clearly against the idea of a European community.”
Yet hope is not lost for those on the Italian Left. While the new alliance has catapulted the far Right into pole position, the Democratic Party remained on level terms with the Brothers of Italy in isolation in the lead-up to the election, with both parties hovering around 24% of the projected vote. Letta insists that the outcome is absolutely not a formality, with roughly 40% of the Italian electorate supposedly having not yet decided which way they will vote at the start of the month.
However, Letta’s abject failure to form a grand coalition to stand against his right-wing counterparts has facilitated an unimaginably appalling electoral outcome. His attempts at galvanizing his base and his drastic endeavours to impart a sense of positivity seem reasonable, but are incongruous with the actuality of the situation. While no outcome can be wholly ruled out until the ballots are counted, the Meloni-Salvini-Berlusconi alliance at this stage looks formidable.
The general election certainly has not arrived at the ideal time for the Italian Left: global events have seemingly tightened the Right’s stranglehold on the electorate’s anxieties. Russia’s war in Ukraine has generated an energy crisis the likes of which have not been seen for decades, quashed small businesses under mounting inflation, and disquieted household finances while citizens are still reeling from the devastation of coronavirus. Italy’s over-reliance on Russian gas does not make the situation any easier; Moscow has reportedly sought to interfere in the election by cutting Italy’s energy supplies. This particular school of thought indicates that Moscow is pushing for a right-wing victory in Italy, with Putin once more utilizing Russian gas as a political football in an attempt to forcefully stifle Italian democracy.
As the announcement of the victors looms, Italy is feeling the pressure. Many simply cannot understand the right-wing alliance’s appeal, particularly over that of the Democratic Party, which offers a staunch defence of workers’ rights, the establishment of a minimum wage, environmental protections, and the promotion of greater civil rights. But for Letta himself, the answer to where it all went wrong for him and his party is clear. “Italy has fallen ill with the personalization of politics,” he said. Such defeatism will ultimately not fill many with much promise.
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