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Meloni vs. the Swamp: Italy’s New Political Reality by Nikola Kedhi

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Meloni vs. the Swamp: Italy’s New Political Reality

Photo: Facebook page of Giorgia Meloni.

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump described the Washington, D.C., political establishment as “the swamp.” For decades, the halls of Congress had been transformed into dark alleys of backroom deals, where shady politicians thrived and enriched themselves at the expense of their constituents. By pointing his finger at them, Trump brought to light a political environment accustomed to living in the shadows and gave a voice to millions of voters who were aware of the problem but unable to do anything about it. Though “the swamp” was not drained or defeated, it was exposed, sustaining a significant blow.

I suppose every country has its own swamp. This was quite evident recently in Italy, Europe’s third-largest economy, when politicians there attempted to elect a new president of the Republic. A total of 1,009 “great electors”—21 senators, 630 deputies, and 58 regional delegates—gathered in Rome on Monday, the 24th of January, for the vote. The incumbent, President Sergio Mattarella, had repeatedly made it clear that he would not seek a second mandate. The center-right bloc—comprised of Giorgia Meloni’s conservative Fratelli d’Italia; Lega, the post-ideological, populist force headed by former Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini; and the centrist Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—had the most votes. Yet it did not secure a clear majority.

The center-right bloc proposed several high-profile names, all of which were refused by the Left. In the fifth round of voting, the center-right nominated the president of the Senate, Elisabetta Casellati. However, members of her own political party, Forza Italia, did not vote for her, dooming her candidacy. Silvio Berlusconi had also put his name forward as a candidate. However, he retracted it before the first round of voting began, to open the way for a less controversial candidate from the Right.

Due to the Left’s a priori veto, however, securing the necessary votes became an obstacle. Prime Minister Mario Draghi wanted the presidency for himself. However, since he was backed by a fragile, heterogeneous majority in Parliament, and had formed a cabinet with representatives from every political party except for the Fratelli d’Italia, most of the parties did not wish to nominate him and risk triggering early elections.

It has become customary for Italian elections to be held hostage by the Left. Even when it does not win elections, somehow the leftist Democratic Party always finds itself in government, having a say in choosing the prime minister and electing the president. In fact, history has repeatedly shown that the Left in Italy always elects a president to its liking, regardless of whether or not it holds a majority. For the Left, every candidate that comes from the Right is, for one reason or another, inappropriate, racist, far right, or unacceptable for the EU—as if Italy were not a sovereign country able to make its own decisions. It is terrifying to think that such a political grouping can hold the political life—and future—of a democratic country entirely captive. Yet, in Italy, this is the reality.

The center-right in Italy holds a clear majority. Every poll shows this—and almost every regional election has proven this undeniable fact. Nevertheless, the Italian establishment is determined to never allow the center-right to govern. When the government that emerged from the 2018 elections collapsed for the first time, the president refused to call new elections, using every political trick in the book to create a new majority in Parliament and to support then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte for a second mandate. When that effort also failed, the president and the Italian political establishment again did everything in their power to prevent an election, offering the premiership to technocrat Mario Draghi, who received the backing of every political party—from the progressive Left to the populist Lega. The only exception was Giorgia Meloni’s party, which continues to call for an election.

Meloni has grown her party from a 6% share in the previous elections to 22%, according to the latest polls, positioning her as the favorite to become prime minister in the next elections (should the center-right run together, in a coalition). Her coherence, honesty, dignity, fiery spirit, strength, charisma—and the conservative values she valiantly defends—have contributed to her astonishing popularity, not only in Italy but throughout Europe. Yet, the establishment—for the same reasons that the ‘common people’ favor her—is doing everything in its power to prevent a true conservative from leading Italy.

Illustrating this point, placing Premier Draghi in the presidency would probably have caused the government to fall, increasing the probability of early elections. As pointed out by Nicola Porro—one of the few strong and sensible voices in Italian journalism—hundreds of members of Parliament risked losing their seats, as well as their generous salaries and benefits. So, naturally, they resorted to the same old backroom deals in the halls of power to maintain the status quo—by having the outgoing president remain in his post and keeping Draghi as prime minister, defying their wishes in both instances. The members of the establishment will undoubtedly declare themselves saviors of the Republic. Through their hypocrisy, their self-interest is more than evident.

In turn, Lega and Forza Italia, instead of maintaining their alliance with Meloni, and rather than holding negotiations with the independents and others in Parliament to select a center-right candidate that could have defected from one of the other centrist parties, fell into the trap set up by the Left, acquiescing to the re-election of the previously outgoing Mattarella—despite the fact that he had repeatedly insisted he did not desire the presidency. Yet, in the end, he seemed all too eager to accept.

Italy, it seems, has for some time abandoned politics and sanity and given full power to non-elected technocrats and politicians. They survive only through behind-the-scenes dealmaking. Italy’s crushing bureaucracy, ineffective judiciary, and its irresponsible, corrupt political class are a serious threat to the country—and, by extension, to the West. Undoubtedly, this is a complete failure of the entire political class—certainly of the past decade. How else can one explain that in a country of 60 million people, a suitable candidate for the presidency cannot be found?

Unfortunately, it must also be said that, as in many other countries, Italian citizens are entirely left out of this process. The only sane person—who thankfully is determined to save the Apennine country and restore some sense of normalcy—is Giorgia Meloni. The task of building a new, united center-right coalition falls to her—as does the need to not waste time on infighting and, instead, remain focused on the goal of properly governing Italy.

Currently, palace journalists and establishment pundits are criticizing Meloni for not joining the coalition government and for not voting for Mattarella. They blame the apparent dissolution of the center-right coalition on her steadfast refusal to join the Left, while seemingly absolving her partners, Salvini and Berlusconi.

Imagine if Meloni had become part of this ‘Frankenstein government.’ One of Europe’s largest economies—and an important NATO member—would have been left without opposition. Being in opposition means exerting a certain level of power and oversight over the government. But the Italian establishment does not want Meloni—and, by extension, conservatives—to have such power (or any power). They fear principled, strong, and clean politicians like Meloni. They want the entire political class to dirty its hands in the shady agreements that regularly occur in Italian politics. This is what inevitably happens when elections are not permitted to happen and citizens have no say in decisions that impact their fate.

Meloni has promised that she will resume her campaign for constitutional changes that would enable the president of the Republic to be elected by the people. The leader of Fratelli d’Italia—who is simultaneously the president of the ECR Party—reiterated her commitment to saving and reforming the Italian Right. Her success in Italy will also boost the fortunes of European conservatives and strengthen her position as the continent’s leading conservative. Europe needs such principled leaders to succeed now more than ever, as the continent continues to spiral towards an economic abyss. 

Meloni faces an uphill battle though, in achieving her goals. The swamp will fight her every step of the way. Its denizens will do everything possible to prevent her from forming a government if her party finishes first during the next election. Nevertheless, having seen her fighting spirit, I firmly believe that if anyone can manage to return Italy to normalcy, it is Meloni.

The Mediterranean region, the whole of Europe, and especially NATO (as recent events have shown) need a strong Italy. And only conservative values—of the kind that she represents—can produce such a transformation. The Italian electorate face a clear choice: the coherence, principles, and determination for change represented by Giorgia Meloni, or the establishment swamp that holds Italy’s future hostage. The electoral campaign has already started and the choice is clear.

Nikola Kedhi is a senior financial advisor at Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ consultancy firms. He is a contributor to several media outlets in the U.S. and Europe, including Fox News, The European Conservative, The American Conservative, the Mises Institute, and others. This article solely reflects the author’s opinions. He studied at Bocconi University in Milan and received his Master’s in finance from University Carlos III in Madrid.


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