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Giorgia Meloni led her right-wing allies in a joint rally on Thursday ahead of their expected victory in weekend elections, in which the former Mussolini supporter hopes to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy are campaigning for Sunday’s vote in a coalition with Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

But opinion polls put her well ahead, suggesting she will lead what would be Italy’s first far-right-led government since the fall of dictator Benito Mussolini after World War Two.

“We are ready! You will see on Sunday,” she told the packed crowd in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, most of them waving flags of the Brothers of Italy.

Despite tensions within her alliance, she has pledged to govern for five years with a program that includes low taxes, higher social spending – and a strong defense of Italy’s interests on the world stage.

The election is being watched closely in Brussels, where the prospect of a Eurosceptic and populist government at the helm of the eurozone’s third-largest economy is raising concerns.

Meloni, 45, sought to reassure investors worried about his ties to Italy’s post-fascist movement, while courting voters unhappy with the status quo.

“I vote for Meloni, she never betrayed me,” Giuli Ruggeri, a 53-year-old unemployed man, told AFP at the rally in Rome.

Concrete measures

The event marked the start of a final sprint for Italian politicians ahead of a weekend campaign breakdown.

Meloni will travel to Naples on Friday, amid indications that the populist Five Star movement – which won the biggest share of the vote in 2018 – is gaining ground in the poverty-stricken south.

Rampant inflation, a looming winter energy crisis and tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine have dominated the election campaign in Italy, which is only just recovering from the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.

Europe also featured prominently, with Italy set to receive nearly 200 billion euros ($200 billion) in post-pandemic funds from the EU by 2026 in return for structural reforms long demanded by Brussels.

Meloni no longer calls for an exit from the euro but pledged on Thursday to lead a “strong, serious and internationally respected” Italy, while the right-wing coalition’s program calls for a review of the rules of the EU in terms of public spending.

Coalition members do not always agree, however, raising concerns about the stability of their possible future government.

Meloni and Salvini both pursue a nationalist agenda and demand an end to mass migration, while emphasizing traditional family values ​​and Italy’s “Judeo-Christian” past.

But while Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticized Western sanctions against Ukraine, Meloni is a strong supporter of Kyiv and their coalition is committed to NATO.

The Russian Embassy in Italy on Thursday tweeted four photos showing Putin with almost all the party leaders in contention on Sunday – with the notable exception of Meloni.

“From the recent history of Russian-Italian relations. We have some memories,” the embassy wrote, in what was widely seen as a pre-election troll.

Undecided

The rally was the first such appearance for Berlusconi, who turns 86 next week, and he looked like he needed help to get on the podium.

“Italy does not want to be ruled by the left,” said the former billionaire prime minister and media mogul, pledging to fight against “fiscal oppression”.

Next was Salvini, who vowed to “protect Italy and Italians” in a wide-ranging speech against Europe, migrants, taxes and multinationals.

The League leader was somewhat overshadowed by Meloni, whose outspokenness and underdog status propelled her party to the brink of power.

In the 2018 elections, the Brothers of Italy – born a decade ago from the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of Mussolini – won just over 4% of the vote.

Her popularity skyrocketed after Meloni became the only main party leader not to join outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity coalition in February 2021 – leaving her the only effective opposition.

Draghi called a snap election in July after his coalition collapsed.

Brothers of Italy was last polled at around 24-25%, ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party at 21 or 22%, followed by Five Star at 13-15%.

With the League around 12% and Berlusconi’s party at 8%, Meloni’s coalition seems well on its way to securing between 45 and 55% of the seats in parliament.

But with 40% of Italians saying they haven’t decided yet or won’t vote, experts warn there’s still room for some upset in a country notorious for its volatile politics, with nearly of 70 governments since 1946.

(AFP)

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