Self-employed, Catholics drive Meloni’s Italian electoral triumph

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ROME (Reuters) – Self-employed people and Catholics helped power Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party to electoral victory on Sunday, surveys show, with a significant share of women voters putting her on course to be Italy’s first female prime minister.

With almost all results counted, Brothers of Italy led with around 26% of the vote, up from 4% in the last national election in 2018, and was by far the biggest party in the victorious conservative alliance.

Meloni’s party received almost 5.9 million votes more than the 2018 elections, a YouTrend post-electoral study shows, roughly the same number its League and Forza Italia allies lost compared to last time. A survey by SWG says half of Meloni’s backers had switched from her partners.

SWG says Meloni was first choice among independent workers. Some 32% of the country’s over 5 million self-employed voters chose Brothers of Italy, with the League and Forza Italia still well supported by that group.

“The self-employed have moved in a substantial way from the League to Brothers of Italy,” Rado Fonda, political analyst at SWG, told Reuters.

Brothers of Italy, which traces its roots to a post-fascist party, supplanted the League in the wealthy north, getting more than twice the number of votes in the key Veneto, Lombardy and Piedmont regions, where Matteo Salvini’s party has its historical strongholds.

SWITCHING PARTIES

Angelo Bruschi, an autonomous worker living in Lombardy’s capital Milan, switched from the League to Brothers of Italy. He said he hopes Meloni will cut taxes and the red tape affecting the country.

“These are key issues for us and Meloni is committed to them,” the 73-year-old property manager told Reuters.

A voting analysis by polling institute Ixe showed Brothers of Italy got around 29% of the Catholic vote, followed by the centre-left Democratic Party which received about 17%.

“I am a practising Catholic and I agree with Meloni’s traditional view on the family,” Bruschi said, adding that her political and economic views had driven his electoral choice.

The SWG survey showed Brothers of Italy was well supported by voters facing financial difficulties, with the left-leaning 5-Star Movement also drawing heavily from this group.

Meloni also got 27% of female votes, the SWG survey says, more than any other party, although abstention was particularly significant among women, with more than one third of them deserting the polls in an election where turnout was low.

Beatrice Carcano, a 26-year-old from Paderno Dugnano, close to Milan, said she switched from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia to Brothers of Italy because Meloni is “smart, very determined and charismatic”.

“The fact that she could become the first female prime minister also influenced my decision,” she told Reuters.

Italy’s election humbles former populist heroes Salvini and Di Maio

After Italy’s last election in 2018, two men embodied the populist wave sweeping the country – Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, respective leaders of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League.

Adored by their party faithful and despised by the mainstream, the two former adversaries with surging support buried their differences to form a ruling coalition.

They picked unknown lawyer Giuseppe Conte as their prime minister, a compromise figure widely seen as a puppet, and installed themselves as his two deputies to dictate policy. 

Fast forward four years and they are the biggest losers from Sunday’s election, underscoring the fickleness of Italy’s voters and the rapid rises and falls of its politicians.

“They presented themselves for years as anti-elitist populist campaigners and then both got into bed with whoever was available to maintain a position of power,” said Daniele Albertazzi, politics professor at Britain’s Surrey University.

In the last four years Di Maio gradually shed all his populist ardour, serving as deputy premier, labour minister, industry minister and foreign minister before eventually quitting 5-Star to form his own centrist party. 

On Sunday it won 0.6% of the vote, trailing behind unknown regional and fringe parties such as an anti-vaccination movement called “Life”.

“There are victories and defeats, you fall but you also learn to get back up, and that will happen this time too,” Di Maio wrote on Facebook, seeming to suggest he would stay in politics even without a seat in parliament.

Eugenio Pizzimenti, politics professor at Pisa University, said that unlike the more charismatic Salvini, Di Maio’s support was strongly dependent on that of his party.

“He never had great personal appeal, as we saw from the disastrous attempt to set up his own movement,” Pizzimenti said.

ECLIPSED BY MELONI

Salvini’s popularity soared during his government with Di Maio, which he brought down after 14 months in a failed bid to become prime minister. The League was then polling at around 35%, far above any other party.

Since then it has all been downhill for the anti-immigrant firebrand, who has remained party leader but overseen a steady decline in its support. 

On Sunday the League won just 9%, in fourth place among Italy’s parties. Salvini was in the winning alliance, but the League got only a third of the votes of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers ofItaly, once its tiny junior ally.

“I went to bed pissed off and woke up spring-loaded and optimistic,” Salvini said on Monday, dismissing speculation he would stand down and promising to help bring political stability toItaly after years of revolving door governments. 

Albertazzi, an expert on Italian right-wing populism, said Salvini had failed in his attempt to transform the League from a northern group battling for regional autonomy into a national right-wing party extending its appeal to the south.

“Meloni is more credible as a patriotic nationalist, and the northern regionalism types no longer trust Salvini because he never talks about autonomy,” he said.

With Italy’s parties repeatedly swapping coalitions since the last election, Meloni benefitted from her perceived consistency in staying out of the national unity government of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

However Pizzimenti warned that her popularity with an increasingly volatile Italian electorate may not last long.

“Politics has become personalised and people vote for whichever leader is on the crest of a wave,” he said. “But these leaders come down as fast as they go up, and Meloni risks meeting the same fate.” 

‘Very real fears’ for LGBT community after far-right win in Italy

The LGBT community has “very real fears” after a conservative bloc dominated by the far-right won Italy’s general election, a leading gay rights campaigner told Reuters.

The nationalist Brothers of Italy group, led by Giorgia Meloni, emerged as the largest party in the ballot and will lead the most right-wing government in Rome since World War Two. 

“Unfortunately there are very real fears” about an erosion of civil rights under the new administration, Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said.

Meloni is allied with the League, another far-right force led by Matteo Salvini, and the mainstream conservative Forza Italia of former premier Silvio Berlusconi. 

“The League and partly Brothers of Italy have in their manifestos things that are quite negative for our community, like stressing the importance of protecting only the traditional family,” Marrazzo said. 

Meloni, 45, was raised by a single mother and is unmarried with one daughter. She presents herself as a defender of Christian values and an enemy of what she calls “gender ideology” and the “LGBT lobby”.

Explaining her opposition to gay parenting rights, she has said that “unlucky children” who are up for adoption “deserve the best” – meaning a father and a mother.

Meloni has denied suggestions that her socially conservative outlook would stretch to undermining or abolishing existing Italian legislation on abortion rights or same-sex partnerships.

“What is there, stays there,” she said last week.

‘GENDER AND LGBT COLONISATION’

Marrazzo, a former leader of the Arcigay LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) association who unsuccessfully stood in the Sept. 25 election, said he was most concerned about the cultural signals coming from the right.

He said it might become harder to run anti-LGBT discrimination programmes in schools and said there had been an increase in the past in homophobic attacks in Italian cities and regions with right-wing administrations.

Pro Vita & Famiglia, a conservative Catholic lobby that is highly suspicious of sex education in schools, has called on the new government to pick an education minister opposed to “any gender and LGBT ideological colonisation in schools”.

Meloni is not expected to take office before late October, so it is too early to say whether she will heed the advice. Meanwhile, her party’s culture spokesman caused a stir by saying last week that gay couples “are not legal”.

Federico Mollicone later clarified he was referring only to gay couples who adopt. He also said his party supports same-sex partnerships – despite having voted against their introduction in 2016 – and “is against all discrimination”.

Meloni’s aide also stood by a call to censor an episode of the popular children’s cartoon “Peppa Pig” which featured a polar bear with two mothers, saying gay parents cannot be presented to minors “as an absolutely natural fact”.

But surveys suggest most Italians are more relaxed.

In June, an Ipsos poll showed that 63% of Italians backed marriage rights for gay people, up 15 points from 2013, and 59% were in favour of gay adoptions, an increase of 17 points from nine years ago.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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