Italian right-wing coalition makes a final push before the election | Italy

A conservative coalition expected to sweep to power in Italy’s general election on Sunday has wrapped up its campaign in a packed square in central Rome, filled with supporters old and new, young and not so young, a smattering of anti-abortion activists and a descendant of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The trio – led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist origins, and including Matteo Salvini’s far right and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – has seen loud and robust support over recent months and remained relatively close together, in stark contrast to a campaign by its main rival, the centre-left Democratic Party, which has been so lackluster that it succeeded in reviving the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in southern Italy.

The first to take to the stage at the closing rally in Rome on Thursday night was three-time former prime minister Berlusconi, who rattled off a list of his past achievements. Then came Salvini, who said that in office he would resume a policy of blocking migrants from landing in Italian ports. The most rapturous applause was reserved for Meloni, the 45-year-old from Rome who could become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Ask Meloni’s followers why they like her and the recurring answer is: “She’s coherent”. “Meloni’s ideas are always the same, they haven’t changed over the years,” said Francesca De Acutis. “To get this far, she never compromised.”

Maria Rachele Ruiu, a Brothers of Italy candidate who comes from the anti-abortion lobby group Pro Vita, said Meloni has been rewarded for her consistency. “She can be trusted,” she added. Ruiu said she was running for election to help promote policies that would “help women in financial difficulty carry out their pregnancy” instead of choosing to have an abortion.

Caio Mussolini, the great-grandson of the dictator who ran as a candidate for the Brothers of Italy in the 2019 European Parliament elections, was also in the crowd to give Meloni support.

He criticized the left’s campaign, saying “the specter of fascism is all they have […] This has been one of the worst campaigns, full of insults and attacks because they have no projects or ideas. They make my great grandfather immortal. In my opinion, fascism ended with his [death] in 1945.”

Final polls before the blackout period two weeks ago predicted a landslide victory for the group. But recently there has been a surprising surge in support for M5S in Italy’s poorer southern regions, where voters have responded to leader Giuseppe Conte’s pledge to preserve the party’s flagship policy, Citizens’ Income for the Poor.

Meloni’s plan to scrap the controversial policy, which cost the Italian government €7.1 billion.

Three million Italians benefit from the income, 70% of whom are in the south. In Sicily, Italy’s poorest region, almost 300,000 families receive the subsidy.

During a rally by Meloni in Palermo last week, many voters carried signs saying: “Don’t touch the citizens’ income”.

Conte told the Guardian the income had “set off a social storm”. “When people carry signs like that, it’s as if those voters are saying, ‘our dignity is inviolable, our freedom is inviolable,'” he said.

Further north, however, Meloni’s stance on the income has attracted support from employers, particularly bar and restaurant owners, who blame the policy for their struggles to hire staff.

Still, pundits have been taken back by M5S’s resurgence in the final phase of the election campaign, citing “secret polls” in recent days that predicted a boost for the party to around 15 or 16% of the vote, potentially enough to give the right the coalition a thinner majority and tampering with its unity, especially if the League, which measured around 12% before the blackout period, scores less than the M5S.

The M5S won 32% in the 2018 elections, but support was quickly depleted after a failed governing coalition with the League, and further waned under subsequent alliances with the Democratic Party and Mario Draghi’s broad unity government. The collapse of Draghi’s government in July was actually triggered by M5S. For the party to have a chance of re-entering the government, it must once again enter into a collaboration with the Democratic Party, whose leader, Enrico Letta, vowed on Friday “never again”.

The citizens’ income struggle may give M5S a boost, but will hardly change the course of these elections.

Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of London-based research firm Teneo, said the same secret polls also maintained that the right would win with a majority. “The electoral system does not play very well for a party that only has a high concentration of votes in some regions,” he added.

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