By Kara Fox, Barbie Latza Nadeau, Antonia Mortensen, Nicola Ruotolo, Sharon Braithwaite and Valentina DiDonato, CNN
Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni has claimed victory in a general election that seems set to install her as Italy’s first female prime minister, leading the most far-right government since the fascist era of Benito Mussolini.
Addressing the media and supporters in the early hours of Monday morning, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.”
“It’s a victory I want to dedicate to everyone who is no longer with us and wanted this night,” she said. “Starting tomorrow we have to show our value … Italians chose us, and we will not betray it, as we never have,” she said.
Preliminary results put an alliance of far-right parties, led by Meloni’s ultraconservative Brothers of Italy party, on track to win at least 44% of the vote, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.
With 63% of votes counted, the Brothers of Italy party had won at least 26%, with coalition partners the League, led by Matteo Salvini, taking around 9% and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia scoring over 8%. Final results are expected later Monday, but it’s expected to take weeks for a new government to be formed.
Meloni entered Italy’s crowded political scene in 2006 and co-founded the Brothers of Italy in 2012, a party whose agenda is rooted in Euroskepticism and anti-immigration policies.
In the last election in 2018, the party won just 4.5% of the vote, but its popularity has soared in recent years, underscoring Italy’s longstanding rejection of mainstream politics, seen most recently with the country’s support of anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s League.
Celebrating the early results on Sunday evening, Salvini said on Twitter, “Center-right in clear advantage both in the House and in the Senate! It will be a long night, but already now I want to say THANK YOU.”
Meloni differs from her coalition partner leaders on the issue of Ukraine. Whereas Berlusconi and Salvini have both said they would like to review sanctions against Russia because of their impact on the Italian economy, Meloni has been steadfast in her support for defending Ukraine.
A 45-year-old mother from Rome, Meloni is deeply conservative, openly anti-LBGT, and has threatened to place same-sex unions, which were legalized in Italy in 2016, under review. She has also called abortion a “tragedy,” raising fears for the future of women’s rights in the country.
‘A sad evening’
The preliminary results showed the center-left coalition, led by the left-wing Democratic Party and centrist party +Europe had won around 22% of the vote, while former prime minister Giuseppe Conte’s bid to revive the Five Star Movement appeared to have been unsuccessful, with around 15%.
In a Facebook post, Conte promised to lead an “uncompromising opposition.”
“We will be the outpost for the progressive agenda against inequalities, to protect families and businesses in difficulty, to defend the rights and values of our Constitution.”
Debora Serracchiani of the Democratic Party also conceded defeat early Monday morning, calling the results a “sad evening for the country.”
“Undoubtedly we cannot, in light of the data seen so far, not attribute the victory to the right dragged by Giorgia Meloni. It is a sad evening for the country,” Serracchiani told reporters.
Sunday’s snap national election was triggered by party infighting that saw the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government in July.
Voters headed to the polls amid a number of new regulations, with voting hours also contained to one day rather than two.
Other changes included a younger voting age for the Senate and a reduction in the number of seats to elect — down from 685 seats to 400 in the Senate and from 315 to 200 in the lower House of Parliament. That parliament is scheduled to meet on October 13, at which point the head of state will call on party leaders to decide on the shape of the new government.
The buildup to the election was dominated by hot-button issues including Italy’s cost-of-living crisis, a 209 billion euro ($200 billion) package from the European Covid-19 recovery fund and the country’s support for Ukraine.
The incoming prime minister — the sixth in just eight years — will be tasked with tackling a number of challenges, with soaring energy costs and economic uncertainty among the country’s most pressing.
And while Meloni is slated to make history as Italy’s first female prime minister, her politics do not mean that she is necessarily interested in advancing women’s rights.
Emiliana De Blasio, adviser for diversity and inclusion at LUISS University in Rome, told CNN Meloni is “not raising up at all questions on women’s rights and empowerment in general.”
The Italian results come as other far-right parties in other European countries have marked recent gains. That includes Sweden’s anti-immigration party, Sweden Democrats — a party with neo-Nazi roots — which is expected to play a major role in the new government after winning the second largest share of seats at a general election earlier this month.
And in France, while far-right ideologue Marine Le Pen lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron in April, her share of the popular vote shifted France’s political center dramatically to the right.
Although Macron and Meloni ideologically diverge, the French president said Monday that France respects Italy’s decision to elect a government headed by Meloni.
Since former German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped down in December, Macron has increasingly emerged as the top EU leader — a position that would put him at odds with the Euroskepticism expressed by the Brothers of Italy.
“The Italian people have made a democratic and sovereign choice. We respect it,” Macron said, according to the Elysee Palace.
“As a neighbor and friend, we must continue to work together. It’s as Europeans that we will succeed in overcoming our joint challenges,” he added.
In a social media post early Monday, Meloni dedicated her projected win to “all the militants, managers, supporters and every single person who — in these years — has contributed to the realization of our dream, offering soul and heart spontaneously and selflessly.”
She added: “We won’t betray your trust. We are ready to lift Italy up.”
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CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris contributed reporting.