IT-ElectionResultsROME -- Italy was all but assured of having its first right wing government since the fall of Mussolini on Sunday, after exit polls showed Brothers of Italy had become the country's largest political party with nearly a quarter of the overall vote, outpacing more than a dozen other parties.

That sets the table for Giorgia Meloni, 45, a former Fascist activist who has sent shivers of the spines of more traditional leaders across the 27-nation European Union. If she becomes prime minister, Ms. Meloni will be the first woman to hold that post in Italy. 

Next up: Italy's head of state, Sergio Mattarella, will meet with the leaders of the largest parties in the coming days and ask one leader, probably Ms. Meloni, to try to cobble together a majority coalition. Together, the three main right wing parties totaled around 40 percent of the vote, but with electoral laws providing extra seats to the party with the most votes, there will be a right-of-center majority if the parties work together as they have vowed to.
Regardless of what happens, the strong result for the Brothers of Italy will create a delicate game for European powers to keep Italy -- the third largest economy in the European Union -- from drifting toward authoritarian EU member states like Hungary and Poland. And that is a game that will have impacts around the world, whether on NATO commitments, the united stance against Russia in Ukraine, European integration.
Meloni has called for a naval blockade to halt immigration from Africa and believes Italy should take a more abrasive stance to defend Italy's rights within the 27-nation European Union. Meloni's party logo still includes the tri-colored Fascist flame and she still uses the Mussolini-era slogan "God, homeland, and family."
But she has also worked to distance herself from her image as a simple far-right firebrand: "We will show that there is nobody in the world who needs to be afraid of us," she told a rally last week.
That hasn't stopped the German magazine Stern from calling Meloni "the most dangerous woman in Europe," and The Guardian, from the U.K., said she was "a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe." In France, Le Monde called her a "figurehead of the radical right."
But while European leaders were apprehensive over the rise of Meloni, Italians were mixed. Meloni's supporters said the Rome native and her allies will help "spark change" and "send the old parties to hell." But even those who did not support her were philosophical.
"I didn't vote for them, but I think Brothers of Italy will win and I think the Italians will struggle but survive," said Anna Di Lorenzo, a 51-year-old shop owner who voted in the blue-collar Rome neighborhood of Testaccio. "We've seen this before."
Vittorio Mazzi, a 35-year-old bus driver who voted in a polling site in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood, said he resented warnings against Ms. Meloni from non-Italian leaders in Europe.
"I recognize her faults but if people aren't Italian they should just recognize our right to vote as we please," he said.
Though right-wing Italian parties have been part of Italian governments in the past, this would be the first time such a group will hold power on its own since Fascist strongman Benito Mussolini was overthrown in 1943. Ms. Meloni's whose party is founded on the ashes of Mr. Mussolini's Fascists, likely to head the 74th Italian government in the 79 since Mr. Mussolini's fall.
Both Ms. Meloni and likely coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi went into the election raising a series of gaffes. Berlusconi is a billionaire media tycoon and a four-time prime minister whose party is predicted to be a junior member of any right-of-center coalition.
Last Monday, Brothers of Italy suspended Calogero Pisano, one of the party's candidates for parliament in Sicily, after it was revealed words of praise for Adolf Hitler, calling him a "great statesman," as well as Russia's Vladimir Putin, saying "I'm with him."
Then on Friday, Mr. Berlusconi declared that Putin was forced to invade Ukraine in order to replace the government of Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy with "decent people" far removed from the European Union consensus stance on the Ukraine conflict. Mr. Berlusconi's remark sparked a round of chuckling in EU capitals and in Brussels, where top officials declined to address the comment.
Also on Friday, Ms. Meloni said that if she becomes the country's premiere she'd withdraw from China's Belt-and-Road Initiative. Since Italy joined the program in 2018, it has sparked billions in new investments but also sparked fears it would take Italy closer to becoming a kind of Chinese economic vassal state. That deal was agreed to by a government headed by a rival to Ms. Meloni, former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, with Meloni-ally, Matteo Salvini of the anti-migrant League, as a senior partner.

Photo: 2022 Italian General Election in the House of Deputies seats shaded by Coalition vote share.
Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia user Talleyrand6 

Story/photo published date: 09/26/2022

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.