UPDATED: Italy election victors aim for rare political stability

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ROME, Sept 26 (Reuters) – The right-wing alliance that won Italy’s national election will usher in a rare era of political stability to tackle an array of problems besieging the euro zone’s third largest economy, one of its senior figures said on Monday.

Giorgia Meloni looks set to become Italy’s first woman prime minister at the head of its most right-wing government since World War Two after leading the conservative alliance to triumph at Sunday’s election.

“I expect that for at least five years we will press ahead without any changes, without any twists, prioritising the things we need to do,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of the League party that is one of the main allies of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

Near final results showed the rightist bloc, which also includes Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, should have a solid majority in both houses of parliament, potentially ending years of upheaval and fragile coalitions.

The result is the latest success for the right in Europe after a breakthrough for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in an election this month and advances made by the National Rally in France in June.

Meloni plays down her party’s post-fascist roots and portrays it as a mainstream group like Britain’s Conservatives. She has pledged to back Western policy on Ukraine and not take risks with Italy’s fragile finances.

Meloni, who has spoken out against what she calls “the LGBT lobby” and mass immigration, struck a conciliatory tone in her victory speech in the early hours of Monday.

“If we are called on to govern this nation we will do it for all the Italians, with the aim of uniting the people and focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us,” she told cheering supporters. “This is a time for being responsible.”

TOUGH INHERITANCE

Meloni and her allies face a daunting list of challenges, including soaring energy prices, war in Ukraine and a renewed slowdown in the euro zone’s third-largest economy.

Her coalition government, Italy’s 68th since 1946, is unlikely to be installed before the end of October and Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains at the head of a caretaker administration for now.

Despite the talk of stability, Meloni’s alliance is split on some highly sensitive issues that might be difficult to reconcile once in government.

Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, pushed Rome to the centre of EU policy-making during his 18-month stint in office, forging close ties with Paris and Berlin.

In Europe, the first to hail Meloni’s victory were hard-right opposition parties in Spain and France, and Poland and Hungary’s national conservative governments which both have strained relations with Brussels.

Salvini questions the West’s sanctions against Russia and both he and Berlusconi have often expressed their admiration for its leader, Vladimir Putin.

The allies also have differing views on how to deal with surging energy bills and have laid out a raft of promises, including tax cuts and pension reform, that Italy will struggle to afford.

With results counted in more than 97% of polling stations, the Brothers of Italy led with more than 26% over the vote, up from just 4% in the last national election in 2018, supplanting the League as the driving force on the right.

The League took only around 9%, down from more than 17% four years ago, but despite the relatively low score, Salvini said he would stay on as party leader. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia scored around 8%.

Centre-left and centrist parties won more votes than the right but were penalised by an electoral law that rewards broad alliances. Enrico Letta, the head of the main opposition party, the Democratic Party, announced he would stand down as leader.

Despite its clear-cut result, the vote was not a ringing endorsement for the right bloc. Turnout was just 64% against 73% four years ago – a record low in a country that has historically had strong voter participation.

(Elisa Anzolin reported this story from Milan. Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer, Angelo Amante, Gavin Jones and Alvise Armellini in Rome Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Nick Macfie)

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MAIN PHOT: Lega party leader Matteo Salvini. EPA-EFE/GIANPAOLO MAGNI

Giorgia Meloni at the headquarters of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) in Rome, Italy, 25 September 2022. Italy held a general snap election on 25 September following its prime minister’s resignation in July. EPA-EFE/ETTORE FERRARI

QUOTES-Political reaction to Italian election outcome

Following is some of the initial reaction.

International reaction:

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, on Facebook:

“Bravo, Giorgia!”

European Commission spokesman, Eric Mamer:

“The Commission and the president [Ursula von der Leyen] work with the governments that emerge from the ballot box in European Union countries. It will not be different in this case. Of course, we hope to have a constructive cooperation with the new Italian authorities”.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, to RMC Radio:

“I do not want to comment on the democratic choice of the Italian people and it is now the [Italian] president’s job to appoint a prime minister.”

“In Europe, we have certain values and, obviously, we will be vigilant” (citing human rights and access to abortion in particular).

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally party, on Twitter:

“The Italian people has decided to take its destiny in hand by electing a patriotic and sovereignist government.

Congratulations to Giorgia Meloni and [League leader] Matteo Salvini for having resisted the threats of an anti-democratic and arrogant European Union by winning this great victory.”

Santiago Abascal, leader of Spanish hard-right opposition party Vox, on Twitter:

“Giorgia Meloni has shown the way for a proud, free Europe of sovereign nations to be able to cooperate for the security and prosperity of all.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Facebook:

“Great victory! Congratulations!”

Iratxe Garcia Perez, president of the Socialist group in European Parliament, on Twitter:

“Meloni’s post-fascism comes to Italy hand in hand and in alliance with EPP’s Forza Italia and ID’s Lega. Dark day for Italy and for Europe. Partito Democratico will lead the opposition and we stand by them!”

Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, on Twitter:

“Italy’s new Prime Minister stands for God, Fatherland and Family. She is the first woman in this post in Italy. Well done @GiorgiaMeloni”.

Domestic reaction:

Giorgia Meloni, in a Facebook post showing her holding the national flag:

“Italians have given us an important responsibility. It will now be our task not to disappoint them and do our utmost to restore dignity and pride to the Nation.”

Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, in a news conference in which he announced plans to step down.

“Italian men and women have chosen, it was a clear, stark choice: Italy will have a right-wing government. The trend that emerged two weeks ago in Sweden is today also confirmed in Italy. Today is a sad day for Italy and Europe, tough days are ahead of us.”

Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister and leader of the conserative Forza Italia party, on Instagram:

“Forza Italia is confirmed as decisive for the victory of the centre-right and for the formation of the new government. Once again, I have put my commitment at the service of Italy, the country I love. Thank you for the trust.”

Carlo Calenda, leader of centrist Azione party, on Facebook:

“Italians have chosen to give a solid majority to the sovereignist right. We consider this a dangerous and uncertain prospect. We’ll see if Meloni will be capable of governing; we will be a tough but constructive opposition.”

Damiano David, lead singer of the Maneskin rock band, in an Instagram story:

“Today is a sad day for my country” (with a picture of La Repubblica’s front page headline saying, “Meloni takes Italy”).

(Compiled by Alvise ArmelliniEditing by Keith Weir)

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