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She has won over the Italian public with her dogged campaign focusing on ‘God, country and family’.
And now Giorgia Meloni has the chance to forge the country in her own image after becoming its largest party, making her the presumptive prime minister of a right-wing coalition.
While the unmarried mother-of-one has been slammed as an ‘heir to Mussolini’ and a neo-fascist, the firebrand has tried to shrug off the labels and appeal to all Italians.
Throughout the election, she has focused on the importance of religion and the family unit, railing against the EU and ‘woke ideology’.
She has courted controversy for slamming the ‘LGBT lobby’, suggesting she is against abortions, and proposing to blockade Libya to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
The influence of her minor coalition partners, Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant Lega party and the more moderate Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia, could also have a bearing on her leadership.
Here, MailOnline takes a look at what the new leader has vowed to do for Italy.
Giorgia Meloni has won over the Italian public with her dogged campaign focusing on ‘God, country and family’
Supporters and staff cheer after the results were announced, with Meloni set to become Italy’s first ever female PM
While Meloni has backed for the West’s policies on Ukraine, coalition partners Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi have questioned the use of sanctions against Moscow and expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin in the past.
Meloni herself also congratulated Putin for his election win in 2018 but has now taken a stronger stance against the tyrant who has rocked Europe with his savage invasion of Ukraine.
The coalition programme has committed to respect NATO pledges and backs all attempts to find a solution to the war.
Meloni also backs supplying arms so Ukraine can defend itself.
The politician used to advocate leaving the EU’s single currency but she has now moderated her stance.
While Meloni has backed for the West’s policies on Ukraine, coalition partners Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi have praised Putin (pictured together)
Last week, Berlusconi claimed Putin was ‘pushed’ into invading Ukraine and refers to him as a friend
She has committed to the ‘full adherence to the European integration process’ but wants a ‘more political and less bureaucratic’ bloc.
She has also called for a review of EU rules on public spending and wants to promote Judeo-Christian values across the union.
Her technocratic predecessor Mario Draghi was a key Eurocentric figure, and Meloni’s victory risks upsetting the EU at a time when the bloc is already fragile, following Brexit and the departure of Angela Merkel.
Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, pushed Rome to the centre of EU policy-making during his 18-month stint in office, forging close ties with Paris and Berlin.
In Europe, the first to hail Meloni’s victory were hard-right opposition parties in Spain and France, and Poland and Hungary’s national conservative governments which both have strained relations with Brussels.
Meloni says Rome must stand up more for its national interests and has backed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in his battles with Brussels.
For years, the right wing has crusaded against unbridled immigration, after hundreds of thousands of migrants reached Italy’s shores aboard smugglers’ boats or vessels that rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea.
Both Meloni and Salvini have thundered against what they see as an invasion of foreigners not sharing what they call Italy’s ‘Christian’ character.
Last month, Meloni was slammed for sharing a video of a Ukrainian woman being raped by an asylum seeker in an Italian city, in a bid to whip up anti-migrant hysteria.
Migrants on board a wooden boat sail close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean Sea
A 55-year-old woman was assaulted on a pavement in the city of Piacenza early Sunday by an asylum seeker from Guinea, local officials said.
Meloni, tweeted the video saying: ‘A hug to this woman. I will do everything I can to restore security to our cities.’
She has vowed to bring an end to the influx of migrants, a position she shares with Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking charity rescue ships when he was interior minister in 2019.
She is seeking to target in particular traffickers’ boats coming from Libya to Italy and the granting of automatic citizenship to babies born to foreign parents.
She wants the Italian navy to blockade the north African coast so that all migrants can be screened before leaving to ascertain whether they are genuine refugees.
Those who can prove their refugee status should be allowed through, Meloni said, while those who cannot should be sent home.
Speaking to a TV channel owned by the Berlusconi family, she said: ‘The problem of migrant arrivals on our shores must be tackled at its source, with a “naval blockade”.’
Likening the plan to EU proposals to get tough on border security, she added: ‘[This] is no different than a European mission to negotiate together with Libya, the possibility to block the inflatable boats during their departure.’
Meloni has also pledged to establish EU-run centres outside the bloc to manage asylum applications to the continent
But Meloni’s plans came under attack by political opponents, who said any attempt to blockade the shores of a foreign nation would be a de-facto declaration of war.
‘Meloni, do you know that under international law it is considered an act of war,’ tweeted former house speaker Laura Boldrini.
‘Do you know that more ships would be required than the navy has? Do you know the number of dead would outnumber those rejected?’
Meloni said: ‘Uncontrolled immigration is what ordinary people worry about. It impacts on those in the lower level of society.
‘Those who defend open borders, they live on the higher level. A country must be able to decide who comes in.’
She doesn’t care if Italy’s Left-wing press vilifies her for her views, as highlighted by a speech she made in Spain to their Right-wing Vox party a few weeks ago.
She reportedly told the rally, with some vigour: ‘Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology,’ before adding, her voice rising to a crescendo: ‘No to the violence of Islam, yes to safer borders, no to mass immigration, yes to working for our people.’
Meloni has also pledged to establish EU-run centres outside the bloc to manage asylum applications to the continent.
She also wants more integrated migration for those who do come to Italy legally, with programmes intended to encourage a more harmonious society.
Among her major policies are big cuts on income tax, VAT and business taxes.
Like much of Europe, Italy is suffering rampant inflation while an energy crisis looms this winter, linked to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, is also saddled with a debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product.
She has emphasised fiscal prudence, despite her coalition’s call for tax cuts and higher social spending.
Family purchasing power will be protected despite soaring inflation, and pensions and benefits will be revaluated.
Giorgia Meloni (pictured this morning) says she has ‘made history’ after her far-right party won the largest vote share in Italy’s elections yesterday
She wants to make full use of the £195billion allotted under the EU’s Covid recovery plan to reduce the tax burden for families, businesses and the self-employed who will receive a flat tax.
At the same time, she wants to renegotiate the grant, seeking more money from the bloc on account of the Russia-Ukraine war and the energy crisis which has exacerbated the previous economic issues.
Russian gas accounts for 40 per cent of Italy’s imports and she wants to increase its production of renewable energy, and consider nuclear power plants.
One of Meloni’s biggest obstacles has been her outspoken statements on abortion and the LGBT community as she vows to restore the family unit.
At political rallies Meloni has fiercely denounced what she calls ‘gender ideology’ and ‘the LGBT lobby’.
Federico Mollicone, her culture spokesperson, said last week that same-sex parenting was not normal, triggering outrage.
Speaking in a television interview with San Marino’s Rtv late on Thursday, Mollicone revived criticism he had previously expressed of an episode of the popular children’s cartoon ‘Peppa Pig’ that featured a polar bear with two mothers.
A pro-LGBT protester storms Meloni’s stage holding a rainbow flag in Cagliari earlier this month
‘It is a very serious issue,’ Mollicone said. ‘As long as the Italian state does not legislate on these couples, presenting them as something absolutely normal is wrong, because it is not.’
He went on to say that ‘in Italy homosexual couples are not legal, are not allowed’ – despite the country having legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016 with a reform that FdI opposed in parliament.
After the criticism of his comments Mollicone clarified on Friday that he was referring only to gay couples who adopt. He insisted that his party now supports civil unions and ‘is against all discrimination.’
Two weeks ago he caused a stir when he said the ‘Peppa Pig’ episode with the lesbian polar bears, first aired in Britain, should not be broadcast in Italy to avoid ‘gender indoctrination’.
During the campaign, Meloni has repeatedly denied suggestions she might roll back legislation on abortion or gay rights, while reaffirming her opposition to adoptions and surrogacy for LGBT couples.
Meloni said she wanted to give a choice to women unsure about terminating pregnancies.
‘We won’t touch the abortion law. We just want (women) to know there are other options,’ she said.
Meloni is likely to keep her word on not criminalising abortion, said Bonino, who did time in jail in the 1970s for her fight to legalise it.
But she fears Meloni will instead ‘push for the law to be ignored’, exacerbating an existing problem – difficulties in getting hold of abortion pills or finding gynaecologists willing to perform terminations.
Following her election today, French prime minister Elizabeth Borne said she will be ‘attentive’ to the respect of the right to abortion and other human rights in Italy.
‘Obviously we will be attentive, with the president of the European Commission, that these values of human rights, the respect of one another, notably the respect of abortion rights, are respected by all,’ Borne told BFM television.
Meloni has openly discussed how she wants to reverse Italy’s declining population, and limiting abortion would help stop that trend.
She also wants to offer incentives for having children including free nurseries, employment protection for young mothers and more welfare payments.
How did the elections work?
In Italy’s complex voting system, coalitions normally occur because the proportional system rarely returns an absolute majority.
The winning alliance needs a majority agreement in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and Italians voted for both houses yesterday.
Both chambers have shrunk in the latest vote, with 400 deputies and 200 senators elected.
Around 36 per cent are elected in a first past the post system in single-member constituencies, like in the UK.
The rest are elected by proportional representation according to the party’s candidate list.
Each voter gets one vote for the chamber and another for the senate.
Except for in the first-past-the-post contests, many Italians are essentially voting for alliances and parties, not candidates, and don’t have a direct say in determining their specific representative in the legislature.
Italy’s electoral law favours groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally.
The new, slimmed-down parliament will not meet until October 13, at which point the head of state will summon party leaders and decide on the shape of the new government.
Elections were due in spring 2023, when Parliament’s five-year term was supposed to end. But populist leaders saw their parties’ support steadily slipping both in opinion polls and in various mayoral and gubernatorial races since the last national election in 2018.
In July, 5-Star Movement head Giuseppe Conte, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia yanked their support for Premier Mario Draghi during a confidence vote.
That triggered the premature demise of the wide-ranging coalition government and paved the way for early elections.
Meloni’s meteoric rise in opinion polls made the trio of populist leaders nervous about waiting until spring to face voters.
She agreed a pact with Berlusconi and Salvini which sees the right-wing coalition taking power.
Near-final results showed the centre-right coalition netting some 44 per cent of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni’s Brothers of Italy snatching some 26 per cent.
Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini winning nearly 9 per cent and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8 per cent.
The centre-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26 per cent, while the 5-Star Movement – which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary elections – saw its share of the vote halved to some 15 per cent this time around.
The formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, outgoing Premier Mario Draghi remains in a caretaker role.
But as leader of the largest party in the strongest coalition, Meloni will be formally appointed by the president after receiving the confidence of parliament.