Polls opened on Sunday in Italy in the first autumn elections in more than a century, with far-right parties leading the race to form the next government in Rome.
Trying to negotiate a price cap on gas imported from Russia with other EU countries will be one of the first tasks any new government in Rome will face, as soaring energy prices continue to be the main concern of voters, according to the latest opinion polls available.
However, of the 51 million voters who could turn out to vote, less than 65% are expected to turn out – the lowest percentage since the first general elections in post-war Italy.
Ahead of the vote, forecasters had suggested the figure could be lower than the current all-time high of 73% seen in the 2018 general election. Among the factors cited in opinion polls was voter disenchantment with the three coalition governments that have been formed. since that last election – each led by someone who had not stood for election.
Midday on Sunday, Interior Ministry figures, based on reports from 95% of Italian cities, showed voter turnout had reached 19.1% – down slightly from the 19.5% reported at the same time during the 2018 elections.
According to the latest data on voting intentions, released two weeks ago, the right-wing coalition is on course for victory, even as many Italians continue to be angered by the sudden collapse of the unity government. National Mario Draghi this summer.
Draghi is not standing for re-election, but a small liberal coalition that includes former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and MEP Carlo Calenda who are campaigning on his policy proposals, the so-called Draghi programme, have vowed to reinstate him in office. of prime minister if they emerged as the winner. The coalition polls less than 10%, according to the latest available data.
Voting closes at 11 p.m. local time, when the first exit polls are released.
In a possible harbinger of coming rows between the new government in Rome and the European Commission, President Ursula von der Leyen angered right-wing leaders in the final days of the campaign by appearing to interfere in Italy’s election.
“Democracy is a constant work in progress, we’re never done, it’s never safe,” she said in a speech at Princeton University on Thursday. And referring to today’s election, she added: ‘if things go in a difficult direction, I spoke about Hungary and Poland, we have tools.’
The comments, which appeared to refer to sanctions Brussels can impose for breaches of the rule of law, angered Italian politicians, with several accusing the Commission president of unduly interfering in the election.
However, while right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini said Von der Leyen was “threatening a sovereign country on the eve of an election”, Italy’s brother leader Giorgia Meloni, who could become Italy’s first female Prime Minister, was more measured.
“I don’t think she specifically referred to Italy, otherwise it would be unprecedented interference,” Meloni said in her last interview before the so-called election silence took effect on Friday evening.
Meloni, 45, sought to reassure the international community that she was well placed to govern Italy despite the right-wing coalition’s erratic stances on the EU and its partners’ closeness to the Russian president.
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As the campaign drew to a close, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suffered a backlash after saying Vladimir Putin “only wanted to replace [Ukraine’s president Volodymyr] Zelenskyy with a government made up of honest people”, but he had encountered “unexpected resistance” on the ground.
Responding to Berlusconi’s remarks, Democratic Party Secretary Enrico Letta said: “The first person to celebrate will be Putin if the right wins.
But Meloni accused Letta and his other opponents of disregarding the national interest and scaring off international markets and investors with their fearmongering.
“Instead of going to Berlin to discuss a gas price cap, Letta went to see Scholz to get his approval before the vote. . . it means trading the nation’s interest for your personal interest,” she said in a television interview Friday night.
The right has promised sweeping tax cuts, lower labor costs and a lower national retirement age as a way to boost the hiring of young workers. He also promised a universal increase in minimum pensions to at least €1,000 a month.
The center-left parties, which are not running in coalition, have also promised the introduction of a national minimum wage as well as the maintenance of a generous program of aid for job seekers. Additionally, they proposed a broad extension of civil rights, including for second-generation Italians.
The sustainability of Italy’s long-term public debt, the eurozone’s second-largest after Greece, has been questioned by investors and EU officials. Experts warn that Italy’s new government needs to exercise caution to ensure the policy is financially viable.
However, many Italians – especially younger voters – seem skeptical of the credibility of such proposals. A result is expected on Monday.