Italy’s far-right eyes election victory

ROME, Italy (AFP) — Italians began voting Sunday in an election expected to usher in the country’s first government led by the far-right since World War II, bringing eurosceptic populists to the heart of Europe.

The Brothers of Italy party, led by one-time Mussolini supporter Giorgia Meloni, is leading opinion polls and looks set to take office in a coalition with the far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia parties.

The last opinion polls two weeks before election day suggested one in four voters were backing Meloni.

However, around 20 percent of voters remain undecided, and there are signs she may end up with a smaller majority in parliament than expected.

In particular, support appears to be growing for the populist Five Star Movement in the poor south.

First female PM?

Meloni, 45, who has campaigned on a motto of “God, country and family,” is hoping to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Voting began at 0500 GMT and will close at 2100 GMT. AFP correspondents saw electors queueing in the morning at polling centers even before they opened.

Many voters are expected to pick Meloni, “the novelty, the only leader the Italians have not yet tried,” Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy told AFP.

Brussels and the markets are watching closely, amid concern that Italy — a founding member of the European Union — may be the latest member to veer hard right less than two weeks after the far-right outperformed in elections in Sweden.

If she wins, Meloni will face challenges from rampant inflation to an energy crisis as winter approaches, linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, rebounded after the pandemic but is saddled with a whopping debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product.

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