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Key Takeaways From Italy’s Landmark Election

After a historic national election in Italy, nearly complete election results on Monday showed a clear victory for a right-wing coalition led by a party descended from the remnants of fascism. The impressive showing for that party — the highest of any single party — made it almost certain that Giorgia Meloni, its leader, would become Italy’s first female prime minister.

The right-wing coalition won 44 percent of the votes across the country, while the left, which failed to cobble together a significant alliance, barely surpassed 26 percent. Those results would give the right the ability to govern without help from the opposition.

Giorgia Meloni holding a sign reading “Thank you Italy” at a news conference on Monday. She is almost certain to become Italy’s first female prime minister.Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Italy will not have a new government for weeks, though, as the system requires the newly elected Parliament to be seated before negotiations on who becomes prime minister. A new government should be installed by the end of October or early November, analysts said.

The country’s hard turn to the right has sent shock waves across Europe after a period of stability in Italy led by Mario Draghi, the centrist technocrat who resigned as prime minister in July. Mr. Draghi directed some 190 billion euros, about $184 billion, in Covid recovery funds to modernize the country and helped lead Europe’s strong response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But on Monday, European analysts said that Ms. Meloni, who has a long record of bashing the European Union and international bankers, did not represent an immediate economic or political threat to the bloc. They said that the real risk was for Italy, noting that the nation would likely lose the influence it exercised under Mr. Draghi, going from a leading country to one that Europe watches anxiously.

Here’s what to know about the landmark vote.

Key Points From Italy’s Election Results

  • Some familiar names are back: Berlusconi and Salvini.
  • The Five Star Movement was resurgent.
  • The center-left was split, and suffered for it.
  • Turnout hit a record low.
  • The majority looks strong, and maybe even stable.

Some familiar names are back: Berlusconi and Salvini.

One vote out of every four cast was for the hard-right Brothers of Italy, known for its anti-immigrant policies, nationalist views and focus on “traditional” families. The party managed to multiply its support more than sixfold, to 26 percent in Sunday’s election, from 4 percent in 2018. Ms. Meloni’s party is now the largest in the country and the strongest within the coalition.

In an early-morning speech from an upscale Roman hotel, Ms. Meloni said that Italians’ indication was “clear” for a government “led by Brothers of Italy,” an apparent signal that she expected her coalition partners to support her for prime minister.

Before the election, Matteo Salvini of the nationalist League party; and Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time former prime minister and leader of Forza Italia — her main partners in the coalition — had been ambivalent about clearly designating her the top candidate for prime minister.

Ms. Meloni at a rally on Thursday in Rome with her right-wing coalition partners Matteo Salvini, left; Silvio Berlusconi, center; and Maurizio Lupi.Credit…Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse, via Associated Press

But the League party, which sought to expand from its northern, business-oriented base to a nationalist party on the strength of an anti-migrant appeal, had such a poor showing on Sunday that analysts said it was unlikely to be able to argue about who gets to lead the country. The party won less than 9 percent of the vote, about half of what it obtained in 2018, hemorrhaging support especially in its stronghold in the northern regions.

Ms. Meloni’s party devoured the League’s support, leaving Mr. Salvini’s leverage, and even leadership, in doubt. Some representatives of the League have started calling for his resignation.

Mr. Berlusconi, positioning himself as the most moderate partner in the coalition, should hold on to his influence even though his party also lost support. Forza Italia took 8 percent in this election, compared with 14 percent in 2018. In 2001, the party had 29 percent.

The Five Star Movement was resurgent.

One of the surprises in the vote was the performance of the Five Star Movement, the once anti-establishment party that was part of the coalitions that governed Italy for more than four years from 2018 until earlier this year.

The party had been struggling because of internal divisions and lackluster showings in opinion polls. But after it prompted the collapse of Mr. Draghi’s government, it managed to gain 15 percent of the votes on Sunday, becoming the third-largest party, after Brothers of Italy and the center-left Democratic Party, which took 19 percent.

Giuseppe Conte, the Five Star Movement’s leader and a former prime minister, campaigned largely on the citizens’ income, a subsidy for unemployed, low-income Italians that has split the electorate. Five Star introduced the program in 2019, and it has been very popular in Italy’s poorer south. But many of Ms. Meloni’s supporters are against the subsidy, and she has said in the past that she wants to abolish the program.

Giuseppe Conte, leader of the Five Star Movement, speaking in Volturara Appula, Italy, this month. His party took 15 percent of the vote, a showing that surprised many.Credit…Franco Cautillo/EPA, via Shutterstock

At a news conference in the early hours of Monday, Mr. Conte spoke of his party’s “great comeback,” which he deemed “very significant.”

The center-left was split, and suffered for it.

The Democratic Party won 19 percent of the vote, losing support even in historical bastions of Italy’s left.

After the defeat, Enrico Letta, the party’s leader, said, “Our opposition will be strong and intransigent.”

Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party, leaving a polling station in Rome on Sunday. He was accused of leading a campaign lacking in substance and based on fear of the right.Credit…Fabio Frustaci/EPA, via Shutterstock

But he also announced that he was not going to run for the party’s leadership next year. He has been accused of leading a campaign lacking in substance and based on fear of the right.

The Democrats, for decades the largest party in the center-left, have failed to build durable alliances. In this election, as in previous ones, they were able to build a coalition only with smaller, pro-European, environmentalist and more extreme leftist parties. In recent years, some of the Democratic Party’s former leaders have broken away and founded their own parties, draining support.

Governing the country with other political forces for the past 10 years, and in Mr. Draghi’s unity government, did not help the party, Mr. Letta said.

Turnout hit a record low.

Voters went to the polls in record-low numbers. Only 64 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday, nine percentage points lower than in 2018. In the southern region of Calabria, only 50 percent voted.

“Italians are disillusioned with politics,” Giovanni Orsina, director of the school of government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, said on a national news channel on Monday. “The largest party in Italy are those who didn’t vote. It’s a strong message.”

A polling station in Rome on Saturday. Only 64 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election.Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

The numbers are striking in a country that is used to relatively high turnout. Voter participation had hovered around 90 percent after World War II, but in the 1980s, the figure started falling. Still, the numbers from this election were especially low; in 2018, almost 73 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

The majority looks strong, and maybe even stable.

The results will hand the right-wing coalition a strong majority in seats in both the lower house and in the Senate, allowing it to govern without much consent or support from the opposition, which is likely to be quite fractured.

It was not immediately clear whether the coalition would have the overwhelming number of seats — a two-thirds majority — in Parliament that would allow it to change the Constitution and veer toward making Italy a presidential republic, a long-sought goal of the right. Analysts said that it was unlikely the coalition would surpass that threshold, however.

The lower house of the Italian Parliament in July, when Mario Draghi resigned as prime minister. The right-wing coalition will have a majority in both that chamber and in the Senate.Credit…Remo Casilli/Reuters

The coalition partners also have substantial differences of opinion on domestic and foreign policy. Ms. Meloni has supported Ukraine and backed Mr. Draghi’s strong stance against Russia, while her coalition partners, such as Mr. Berlusconi, have signaled admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin and criticized sanctions against Moscow, saying they are damaging to the Italian economy.

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