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Meloni Taking the Lead of Italian Right by Hélène de Lauzun

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Meloni Taking the Lead of Italian Right

While the mandate of the president of the Italian Republic was renewed at the beginning of the year—for seven years by an indirect election—Italians go to the polls in June to elect some of their mayors and municipal councillors, with a first round on Sunday, June 12th, and a second round scheduled for June 26th. The 26 regional capitals are concerned, hence the vote is of strategic importance.

On Sunday, June 12th, a referendum for a reform of the justice system was also held at the initiative of the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini. It was generally rejected by voters, with a turnout of around 20%, whereas a minimum of 50% was needed to make the result valid. 

Despite this setback for Salvini, the right wing as a whole emerged from the municipal elections in a relatively good position, ahead of the next legislative elections in 2023. 

Matteo Salvini’s main rival, Giorgia Meloni, head of the Fratelli d’Italia party, is experiencing a significant surge. 

The Fratelli d’Italia party was born in 2012 from a split in the former National Alliance party, itself a product of the Movimento Sociale Italiano, a neo-fascist party born in 1946 during the reconfiguration of Italian political forces following the Second World War. This sulphurous genealogy condemned it at first to mediocre results. 

The leadership of Fratelli d’Italia was taken over by Giorgia Meloni in 2014. Since then, its strategy has been both to join forces with other forces to form a centre-right coalition—Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s Lega—while distancing itself from them when deemed necessary. The three parties were allied for the 2018 parliamentary elections but had failed to find a stable governing majority, despite winning with 37% of the vote. Following this failure, Giorgia Meloni had disapproved of Matteo Salvini’s strategy of joining forces to govern with the 5 Star Movement, which she considered “structurally left-wing.” Today, her Fratelli d’Italia is the only party not to participate in the grand coalition government led by Mario Draghi in February 2021—although she shares his commitment to NATO and his logistical and military support for Ukraine. 

The June 2022 election is another opportunity for Meloni to assert herself on the Italian political scene. During the campaign, she made a notable stop in Viterbo: it was there where she had been elected president of the youth branch of the Alleanza Nazionale, before it gave birth to Fratelli d’Italia. In Viterbo, she fully assumed her position as a woman politician, while vigorously attacking gender quotas and activism. She also strove to embody a youthful image, and her popularity is growing at the expense of that of her competitor (and ally), Matteo Salvini, who continues to plummet in the polls and at the ballot box. The two leaders nevertheless insisted on appearing side by side in a joint rally in Verona, in order to put to rest rumours of tensions between the two parties. 

The first known results of the vote on Sunday, June 12th, confirm Giorgia Meloni’s surge, even in the north, in areas traditionally loyal to Matteo Salvini. The Five Star Movement is experiencing a real electoral rout. Giorgia Meloni welcomed a clarification of political life, with the return of a Right and a Left clearly identified and opposed to each other: “a healthy bipolarity,” in her words. In her view, the Draghi government no longer reflects the real state of the country, and she intends to pressure her allies, Forza Italia and the Lega Nord, to leave the government. “If I were them, I would leave the executive,” she told a press conference. 

Meloni’s signal for the 2023 parliamentary elections is clear: she intends to take the centre-right out of the centrist swamp and fully assume a right-wing identity. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).