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Italy election: What you need to know

September 24, 2022

Italians have been called to vote on Sunday in what has been deemed a crucial election. The country may see its first far-right premier since World War II. DW has an overview.

 A man walks past electoral posters for Italy's general elections, in Milan
Sunday's election is expected to dramatically change the formation of Italy's parliament Image: Luca Bruno/AP/picture alliance

Italians are set to cast their votes in a historic election on Sunday that could lead to the country's first far-right ruling party since World War II.

The rising popularity of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) — with its neofascist roots — has propelled party leader Giorgia Meloni as a front-runner candidate for the role of prime minister, sparking fears throughout Europe.

But the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (5SM) are hoping to prevent a right-wing coalition, with FdI at the helm, from taking power.

The first exit polls will be expected when voting ends at 11 p.m. local time (2100 GMT/UTC), with the first official results set to come out overnight into Monday.

DW explores just how the Italian election works and looks at the different candidates.

Italy's businesses hope for lower taxes and less bureaucracy

How it works

All Italians aged 18 and over will be called to cast their votes for lawmakers in both the lower house Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the upper house of parliament.

The voting system is a hybrid, with three-fifths of seats being granted via the first-past-the-post model, while the rest are elected through proportional representation.

A 2020 referendum changed the number of lawmakers, reducing the number of deputies in the chamber from 630 down to 400, and slimming down the Senate from 315 to 200 lawmakers.

An alliance requires a majority in both houses to win. The prime minister is not directly chosen by the electorate but rather by sitting lawmakers.

The system often leads to large coalitions, but this has also resulted in political instability — Italy has had 67 governments in the 76 years since the foundation of the republic.

Who are the candidates?

Meloni heads a party that stems from the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), founded by sympathizers of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II. She was a member of the movement's youth wing.

She has rejected accusations of being a fascist, and increasingly toned down some of the more far-right rhetoric. But in a speech given in June in Spain, alongside Spain's own far-right Vox party, she railed against a so-called "LGBT lobby," "mass immigration" and "big international finance."

FdI was polling at around 25% before polling was barred in the run-up to the election. Their partners — former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the anti-migrant League — are polling at lower shares of the vote.

The main contender for the center-left alliance is the Democratic Party led by Enrico Letta.

Letta: 'This vote is a sort of Brexit vote'

PD has been joined by several smaller parties to form a left-leaning alliance, but its hopes are limited following a falling out with several other centrist parties.

The other major player is the 5SM, the winner in the 2018 election, which is expected to lose a substantial part of its share.

Why is there a snap election?

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi triggered the election with his resignation in July after the 5SM — one of the many parties in Draghi's big tent coalition, which included leftists, right-wing and centrist parties — pulled its support for the prime minister's economic aid decree.

Draghi, who was chosen by the president to form a government after the previous 5SM-led government collapsed, has said he will not stand again.

What are the issues?

The election comes amid soaring prices of goods and fuel thanks to galloping inflation and exacerbated by Russia's war in Ukraine.

The right-wing coalition has been split over its stance on Ukraine, with Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, having previously been seen wearing pro-Putin T-shirts. He has questioned the sanctions against Russia, saying they damage Italy's economic interests.

However, Meloni is pro-Ukraine and pro-NATO.

The FdI has also toned down its anti-EU stance, calling instead for a renegotiation of Italy's massive EU COVID recovery plan.

The Brothers of Italy have also proposed a flat tax of 15% across all brackets, a position opposed by the center-left.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a veiled threat on Friday, saying the EU could work with any democratic government, but "If things go in a difficult direction, I've spoken about Hungary and Poland, we have tools," she said.

ab/wmr (AP, AFP, dpa)