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Background: Developments since 2018

Parliamentary elections were held on 25 September 2022. This was a year earlier than anticipated, and followed the collapse of Mario Draghi’s national unity government in July 2022. The Draghi government, formed in February 2021, had been the third different government configuration since the previous parliamentary elections held in March 2018. 

The Draghi government had replaced a coalition government led by Giuseppe Conte bringing together the populist Five Star Movement and centre left parties. This was formed in September 2019, and replaced another coalition government led by Conte, bringing together Five Star and the right-wing populist League.

There had been a degree of alternation in Italian governments since the 1990s between the centre right and centre left. But it became difficult for either bloc to win a majority after Five Star was formed in 2009 and rapidly grew in popularity. It was the leading party in the 2018 election, with 32.7% of the vote.  Following the 2018 election, the League broke away from the centre right bloc to form the short-lived coalition with Five Star. 

Both the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia joined Draghi’s national unity government in 2021 alongside Five Star and the centre left parties. The government was established in order to manage Italy’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The other main centre right party, FDL, stayed in opposition.

The centre right parties worked together to bring down the Draghi government in July 2022, and Five Star also withdrew support. By this point, FDL was the leading party in the opinion polls, with Meloni the most likely centre right candidate to be Italian Prime Minister.  

Political parties

The centre right

The principal parties in the centre right coalition for the 2022 election were FDL, the League and Forza Italia. Forza Italia was previously the leading party within the centre right, with Berlusconi as Prime Minister in 1994 (briefly) and then from 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011. Berlusconi was forced from office in 2011 amidst corruption allegations and the financial crisis. His relationship with Russian President Putin has come under greater scrutiny in the last year.

In the 2018 election, the League overtook Forza Italia as the leading centre right party, winning a significant vote share in the south of Italy for the first time. The League is a rebranded version of the Northern League, which advocated autonomy for Italy’s northern regions. Under Matteo Salvini’s leadership since 2013 it has combined its previous anti-EU and anti-immigration stances with Italian nationalist rhetoric. The League also signed a cooperation agreement with President Putin’s party in Russia.

Salvini had a high profile as Interior Minister from 2018 to 2019 and was involved in several stand offs with migrant rescue boats run by humanitarian organisations, refusing to allow them to dock in Italian ports. Salvini tried to force early elections in the summer of 2019, but this backfired with Five Star instead opting for an alternative coalition with the centre left.

FDL was formed in 2012 and is a successor party to the National Alliance (AN), which was previously part of Berlusconi’s governing coalition. The AN itself developed out of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was formed by fascist veterans following the Second World War and continued to praise the Fascist regime until the early 1990s.  

Meloni says her views have changed since she expressed sympathy for Fascism as a youth activist, and that there is no room in FDL for nostalgia for Fascism, racism or antisemitism.  Meloni released a video during the 2022 election campaign reassuring international observers of FDL’s commitment to democracy. She said Fascism had been consigned to history decades ago.

In 2021, FDL and the League signed a joint statement with Hungary’s ruling Fidesz, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally and similar parties, which warned of forces seeking to carry out “a cultural, religious, transformation” of Europe and called for “pro-family” policies rather than mass immigration to address demographic decline.

Meloni has previously denounced “globalist” interests seeking to destroy Christian culture, and substitute Italians with migrants. Meloni’s speeches have emphasised traditional views of the family and Christian identity and have criticised the “LGBT” lobby.

While Berlusconi and Salvini have been viewed as sympathetic to Russia, Meloni has stressed her condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The centre right programme in the 2022 election emphasised support for NATO and a reformed EU. This would involve revision of EU economic governance rules. It pledged a renewed block on migrant boats docking in Italy, as well as tax cuts, measures to increase the Italian birthrate, and a constitutional reform involving a directly-elected President.

The centre left and Five Star

The Five Star Movement has been difficult to place on the left-right spectrum. It has championed environmental policies and the citizens’ income (a benefit for the jobless and low paid), but also endorsed the League’s positions on migration in 2018-19 and has been viewed as sympathetic to Russia. There was a major split in June 2022. A group led by former leader Luigi Di Maio left the party after disagreeing with Giuseppe Conte’s position on Ukraine. Conte opposed the Government’ position of sending arms to Ukraine.

In the September 2022 election, Five Star was viewed as adopting a clearer left-wing position, defending the citizens’ income which the centre right pledged to reform. Although there were several similarities between Five Star’s manifesto and that of the main centre left party, the Democratic Party (PD), and the two had worked together in government since 2019, they ran separately in the election.  The PD leader Enrico Letta dismissed the possibility of an alliance with Five Star, blaming it for the downfall of the Draghi government.

In the election the PD formed an alliance with the Greens and Left Alliance (AVS) and other smaller parties. However, an electoral alliance with the centrist Action Party was terminated by the latter when it learned of the PD alliance with AVS. Action formed a separate alliance with Italia Viva (IV), a party led by the former PD leader Matteo Renzi.

The election and its aftermath

During the election, PD leader Letta highlighted FDL’s ties to the ruling parties in Hungary and Poland and said an FDL-led government would be a risk to Italy’s position in the EU. He also suggested that a centre right victory would please President Putin and former US President Donald Trump. Meloni accused Letta of “alarms and lies”. Meloni said the centre right would respect EU budget rules and would be “very cautious” in managing public finances. But she said that she wanted “a different Italian attitude on the international stage, for example in dealing with the European Commission”.

Comments from European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, caused anger among centre right leaders.  Responding to a question about the Italian elections, von der Leyen referred to EU actions taken against Hungary and Poland and said: “If things go in a difficult direction […] we have tools”. There was a later Commission clarification that von der Leyen was not interfering in Italian politics and was speaking in general terms about rule of law issues.

The centre right coalition won a substantial majority in the election in both parliamentary chambers. It won 237 of the 400 seats in the Chamber of Deputies with 43.8% of the vote. The centre right benefited from the united front it presented in the elections, while its opponents were split. This gave it an advantage in the first-past-the-post seats (FPTP) in particular where it backed an agreed slate of candidates. The Italian electoral system provides for 36.8% of seats to be allocated in FPTP seats, and 63.2% proportionally.

FDL was the leading party of the centre right, with 26% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies (compared to 4.3% in 2018). The vote shares for both the League and Forza Italia fell below 10%. The PD’s share of the vote at 19.1% was similar to that of 2018. Five Star’s share of the vote fell to 15.4%.

New Government takes office

The new government was sworn in on 22 October 2022. This followed reports of disagreements within the coalition. Some Forza Italia senators did not vote for the proposed FDL candidate for Senate President after Meloni reportedly rejected proposed ministerial appointments put forward by Berlusconi. Berlusconi also caused embarrassment to Meloni after a recording emerged in which he talked of his continuing friendship with President Putin, including a recent exchange of gifts. This followed Berlusconi’s sympathetic comments about Putin’s intentions in Ukraine during the election campaign.

Salvini reportedly sought a return to the Interior Ministry but was instead made Minister of Infrastructure, as well as Deputy Prime Minister.  Antonio Tajani, vice-President of Forza Italia and former President of the European Parliament, was also made Deputy Prime Minister as well as Foreign Minister. Tajani had reaffirmed Forza Italia’s commitment to NATO and condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The new government resumed the policy of preventing migrant rescue vessels run by humanitarian organisations from docking in Italy. It relented in some cases, allowing boats to dock after long stand-offs. One boat was eventually diverted to a French port leading to a row with the French government. The French Interior Minister criticised Italy’s stance as “inhumane”.

Meloni attended the G20 summit in Bali in November and joined G7 and NATO leaders in condemning the latest Russia attacks in Ukraine. The Government published its budget plan for 2023 in late November. This includes tax cuts and phased abolition of the citizens’ income.


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