How to watch the Italian election like a pro

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The era of Mario Draghi as Italy’s prime minister is drawing to an end as elections are held across the country on Sunday. A right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy is on course to come out on top, according to opinion polls, although there have been missteps and hiccups in the final few days of the campaign.

A Meloni victory would mark a sharp change of direction for Italy, raising concerns in Brussels and in EU capitals as the bloc grapples with soaring inflation, the war in Ukraine, and the threat of blackouts as energy runs short this winter.

The exit of Draghi — nicknamed Super Mario for his key role in resolving the eurozone crisis — makes this election a critical moment for Italy and for the European Union.

At stake is the future direction of the EU’s third-biggest economy, the stability of the eurozone, and the debate among EU member countries on everything from energy security to sending weapons to Kyiv.

Here’s what you need to know.

How does it work?

On September 25, Italians will elect new lawmakers for both branches of the Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. The batch of new MPs will be smaller than it used to be, after a 2020 constitutional reform cut their number from 945 to 600.

Approximately one-third of new MPs will be elected via a first-past-the-post system while the rest will be elected on the basis of the overall results of the parties. Those parties which score below 3 percent are automatically excluded.

The first indication of who is winning will come with an exit poll, expected to be announced at 11 p.m. on Sunday. When the official results are out on Monday, the ball will be in the court of the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella who, based on the outcome of the election and the composition of the new parliament, will have to appoint a new prime minister.

Mattarella will choose as prime minister the leader who has the best chance of winning parliament’s support in a confidence vote. Mattarella also has the formal power to name ministers, although he generally appoints them on the recommendation of the new premier. If no clear majority emerges from the vote, Mattarella will be able to test alternative potential coalitions. 

It may take several weeks before the final shape of the coalition and its program for government is settled. New MPs are meant to stay in office for five years. However early elections such as this one are not rare in Italy.

Who is running?

The four main political forces in the race are a right-wing coalition, a center-left coalition and two outsiders.

The right-wing coalition brings together Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Meloni’s party used to be the junior partner of the center-right coalition. At previous national elections, in 2018, it got approximately 4 percent of votes. But after 10 years on the opposition benches, the Brothers of Italy are stronger than ever. They pride themselves as being the only ones to stay out of all the coalition governments that ruled Italy during the previous mandate — including the one led by Draghi.

ITALY NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Meloni’s far-right proposals include stopping migration flows with what she calls a “naval blockade” in the Mediterranean and protecting Italian companies, for instance by extending investment screening to other EU countries. POLITICO has everything you need to know about Meloni’s personal history, her plans for the EU, her foreign policy and economic agenda.

Matteo Salvini’s League has a similar program and that’s why he has been constantly losing voters to Meloni. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is 85 years old, leads center-right Forza Italia, which is now by far the smallest party in the right-wing alliance.

The main party of the center-left coalition is Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party. Letta, who already served as Italy’s prime minister between 2013 and 2014, is pushing for a social democrat and pro-EU agenda while backing Draghi’s reform plans. He recently received the endorsement of German chancellor Olaf Scholz. The center-left coalition also includes small parties such as the liberal More Europe (+Europa), Italian Left (Sinistra Italiana), the Greens and Civic Commitment (Impegno Civico), a small movement founded by foreign minister Luigi Di Maio after leaving the 5Star Movement.

Giuseppe Conte’s anti-establishment 5Star Movement is running alone rather than part of an alliance. Conte, who was Italy’s prime minister right before Draghi, is pushing for a progressive agenda that includes establishing a minimum hourly wage and strengthening welfare measures.

Former Italian PM Giuseppe Conte | Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

At the center of the political spectrum stands the so-called “third pole,” a centrist group led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi and MEP Carlo Calenda, who was industry minister and Italy’s permanent representative to the EU when Renzi was in power. Liberal leaders of the third pole say they want to keep working on what they call the “Draghi agenda.”

Who could win?

The right-wing coalition is the favorite grouping to take power, according to polls published earlier this month, before a mandatory blackout on voting intention surveys.

The Italian right could get as much as 45 percent of votes, according to POLITICO’S Poll of Polls. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy would be the top party (25 percent) while the League and Forza Italia could score respectively 13 and 7 percent. If these numbers are confirmed, a right-wing government could count on a majority, with 250 lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies (out of 400) and 126 senators (out of 200).

If the Italian right wins and the Brothers of Italy achieve the best score, Meloni will be the coalition’s candidate to be prime minister, as decided in a pre-electoral agreement between the Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia.

The Democratic Party is polling around 22 percent. If polls are right, its only chance to go to power would be as part of a hypothetical wide-ranging alliance, going beyond the current center-left coalition.

Conte’s 5Star Movement, which is particularly popular in the south, was polling at 13 percent before the polls blackout, but analysts say it could perform better than expected. The third pole could get 7 percent of votes.

What does Brussels think?

Some EU officials and member countries are concerned about Meloni becoming Italy’s next prime minister.

If things go in a “difficult direction” after the election in Italy this Sunday, “we have the tools,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last Friday, sparking criticism from Italian politicians, who accused her of interfering with their election on the eve of the vote.

Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni gestures as she delivers a speech on stage on September 22, 2022 | Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty imaged

During the campaign, Meloni tried to reassure EU institutions and international partners that she was not a Euroskeptic. But her protectionist positions and her statements from the past suggest the contrary. “There is always the fear in the back of everyone’s mind here that we might see the old Meloni when she gets elected,” as an EU diplomat put it.

Meloni would like to reopen talks with Brussels on projects financed via the country’s post-pandemic recovery plan, arguing that, with the current energy crisis, priorities have changed. In parallel, she opposed a so-called “competition decree,” one of the key reforms agreed with Brussels to obtain those funds.

Meloni promised to be prudent on public spending, but some member countries are worried about having her at the table in upcoming negotiations to reform the EU’s public spending rules.

Will Rome change its mind on Russia?

Italy’s position towards Russia emerged as a major issue just hours before the vote. Draghi’s pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine positions are shared by the Democratic Party and the third pole. But other parties have been more ambiguous.

Right-wing parties have traditionally been close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, they took different positions.

Meloni differentiated herself from Berlusconi and Salvini by slamming Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and backing EU sanctions against Moscow. Both Berlusconi and Salvini initially condemned the Kremlin’s move, but progressively adopted a softer approach towards Russia.

Salvini said that Western countries should reconsider sanctions against Russia while, earlier this week, Berlusconi said Putin just wanted to replace Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government with “decent people.” Conte opposed sending more arms to Ukraine.



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