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Eyeing victory, Italian right rallies ahead of vote

Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy was leading the polls two weeks before election day. ©AFP

Rome (AFP) - Italy's right-wing parties will stage a joint rally Thursday in a final push ahead of elections forecast to install a one-time fan of Mussolini as the country's first female prime minister.

Giorgia Meloni's eurosceptic Brothers of Italy was leading the last polls published two weeks before election day Sunday.

She and her allies, Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration League and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, look almost certain to form the first far-right led government in Rome since World War II.

The elections are being closely watched in Brussels.Italy is the eurozone's third largest economy, but it is plagued by weak growth, colossal debt and unstable politics.

Meloni, 45, has sought to reassure investors worried about her links with Italy's post-fascist movement, while at the same time wooing voters disaffected with the status quo.

"As Gandhi said, 'First they ignore you, then they mock you, then they fight you.Then you win," she tweeted Wednesday, with a photo of her fingers formed in a "V" for Victory.

Concrete measures

Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi -- who at nearly 86 has conducted a largely virtual campaign so far -- will hold a rally in Rome on Thursday evening before a final day campaigning ahead of a news blackout.

Meloni will head to the southern city of Naples on Friday, amid indications that the populist Five Star Movement -- which won the biggest share of the vote in 2018 -- is gaining ground there.

Runaway inflation, a looming winter energy crisis and tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine have dominated debate in a country only just recovering from the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic.

Europe has also loomed large, with Italy set to receive almost 200 billion euros ($200 billion) of EU post-pandemic funds by 2026 in return for structural reforms long demanded by Brussels.

Meloni no longer urges an exit from the euro but has made clear she will assert Italy's national interests, while the right-wing coalition's programme calls for a review of EU rules on public spending.

The coalition members do not always see eye to eye, however, raising concerns about the stability of their potential future government.

Meloni and Salvini both pursue a nationalist "Italians First" agenda and demand an end to mass migration, while emphasising traditional family values and Italy's "Judeo-Christian" past.

But while Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticised Western sanctions over Ukraine, Meloni is strongly supportive of Kyiv and their coalition is committed to NATO.

The Russian embassy in Italy tweeted four photos Thursday showing Putin with almost all the party leaders running on Sunday -- with the notably exception of Meloni.

"From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy.We have some memories," the embassy wrote, in what was widely viewed as some pre-election trolling.


Meloni was likely not featured in the Russian photos because she has risen from almost out of nowhere, giving her an outsider status that resonates with voters sick of the rotating cast of politicians who have led Italy in recent years.

In the 2018 elections, Brothers of Italy -- born a decade ago out of the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini -- won just over four percent of the vote.

Its popularity soared after Meloni became the only main party leader not to join Draghi's national unity coalition in February 2021 -- leaving her the only effective opposition.

Draghi called snap elections in July after his coalition collapsed.

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

With her allies -- the League around 12 percent and Berlusconi's party at eight percent -- Meloni's coalition looks on course to secure between 45 and 55 percent of seats in parliament.

But Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta is putting his hopes in the 40 percent of Italians who say they either will not vote, or have yet to decide.

And experts caution that in a country that has seen almost 70 governments since World War II, predicting politics is notoriously difficult.

"In Italy, the election is decided the day people go to vote," noted Marc Lazar, professor at the universities of Sciences Po in Paris and Luiss in Rome.

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