The politicians vying to lead Italy’s next government

ROME – The main candidates in Italy’s general election on Sunday to elect a new parliament and determine who will rule the country next include some well-known and some lesser-known names. They range from three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to far-right opposition leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading in opinion polls and aspires to become Italy’s first woman prime minister.

Here are the key players in the September 25 election:

GIORGIA MELONI

Meloni, who has been high in voter opinion polls for weeks, could become Italy’s first far-right prime minister since the end of World War II and its first ever female leader. Her Brothers of Italy party has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity since the vote in 2018, when it garnered just over 4% in polls.

In the now-ending legislature, Meloni has refused to allow her party, which she co-founded in 2012, to join any coalition government, including the pandemic unity government under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

At 45, Meloni would also be one of Italy’s youngest prime ministers. She claims the European Union is too bureaucratic but has said she would not push for an “Italexit” – which would pull the country out of the common euro currency – and presents herself as a staunch supporter of NATO. She is demonstrating against what she calls LGBT “lobbies” and promotes what she calls Europe’s “Christian identity”.

But in sharp contrast to her fellow leaders on Italy’s right – anti-migrant Matteo Salvini and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, both of whom have openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin – Meloni supports military aid to Ukraine.

She has been dogged by accusations that she has not clearly broken with her party’s neo-fascist roots.

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ENRICO LETTA

Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy’s main center-left force, is Meloni’s biggest electoral rival.

Letta served as prime minister in a coalition with centre-right forces after a 2013 election failed to produce a clear majority. But he lost the post of prime minister after just under 10 months when an ambitious Democrat, Matteo Renzi, maneuvered to take the post for himself.

Burned from the fall, Letta went to Paris to teach at the prestigious Sciences Po university. With the Democrats constantly plagued by power struggles, he returned to Italy to retake the reins of the party in March 2021.

Letta was thwarted in his quest to build a solid centre-left electoral alliance to challenge Meloni and her allies when the populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the outgoing parliament, helped toppled Draghi’s government this summer.

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MATTEO SALVINI

Salvini, the 49-year-old leader of the League, was the undisputed face of Italy’s right-wing leadership until the breakthrough of Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party.

His party has roots in Italy’s industrial north. He surprisingly struck a deal to govern with the 5 Star Movement in 2018, even after taunting populist forces. A little over a year later, he maneuvered to oust 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte from the post of Prime Minister so he could take the post for himself. But Conte outmaneuvered Salvini and struck his own deal with the Democratic Party, forming a coalition government that left the League in opposition.

As interior minister in Conte’s first government, Salvini has enforced his hard line on migrants, particularly those who arrive by the tens of thousands in smuggling boats departing from Libya. Under his tenure, migrants rescued by humanitarian ships were kept aboard the overcrowded ships for days or weeks because he refused to disembark them quickly. Prosecutors in Sicily had charged him with kidnapping allegations because of his politics. In one case he was found innocent; another trial in Palermo is still ongoing.

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SILVIO BERLUSCONI

Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he founded his own party and named it Forza Italia after a football celebration at the stadium. With his 86th birthday on September 29 and Forza Italia’s popularity dwindling in recent years, the three-term former prime minister is not seeking a fourth term, instead hoping for a Senate seat. Nearly a decade ago, the Senate expelled him from the country on a conviction for tax fraud by his media empire.

Berlusconi promises to exert a moderating influence on the two larger parties in the right-wing alliance: Meloni and Salvini.

Berlusconi’s last term as prime minister ended abruptly in 2011, when financial markets lost confidence that the billionaire media tycoon could manage his country’s finances during Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

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GIUSEPPE CONTE

Mediation-specialist lawyer Conte, now 58, was pulled out of political obscurity to become prime minister in 2018 after the populist, Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement he now leads stunned the Italian establishment by winning almost 33% which won votes to become the largest party in Parliament. When neither then-5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio nor right-wing leader Matteo Salvini budged over who would become prime minister, Conte got the job.

Some 15 months later, Conte’s government collapsed when Salvini made a botched move to take over as prime minister. But Conte outwitted Salvini by forming a new government that replaced the League with the centre-left Democratic Party.

At the start of his second term as prime minister, Italy became the first western nation to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conte enforced one of the toughest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. But in January 2021, 16 months after Conte’s second government, it collapsed after Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister, tore his small centrist party out of the coalition.

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Colleen Barry contributed from Milan.

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/09/22/the-politicians-vying-to-lead-italys-next-government/ The politicians vying to lead Italy’s next government

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