Italy is heading to the polls on Sunday for a snap general election.
A right-wing bloc — consisting of the parties of Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi — is on course to win, according to opinion polls.
1. This is Italy’s first summer election campaign
A scan through all of Italy’s general elections since the nation was created in 1861 shows that this is the first electoral season to have started in the middle of summer, as well as the first time Italians are heading to the polls in September.
August is usually a time of relaxation for Italians. The 15th of the month is Ferragosto, an ancient Roman festival turned Christian observance which is now a national holiday, and sees hordes of Italians flocking to the country’s sprawling coastline.
As such, starting an election campaign in the middle of Italians’ almost ritualistic descent to the beach is hardly opportune. This is a time when the only “ticket” people want to see is the ticket for the pedalo hire, not a political party. And this summertime apathy is looking like it might endure until election day: around 40% of the electorate is not planning on voting.
But there are more technical reasons why Italy never holds summertime elections. The budget for the following year is usually approved in September, and as such, it makes little sense to have a change of government around this time.
2. Four former prime ministers are running for office
Italian elections can often be summarised by the old wedding adage: “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”.
It often sees a mix of fresh-faced candidates and ghosts from the past, and this time around is no exception: there are four ex-prime ministers in the race.
The centre-left bloc’s biggest force, the Democratic Party, is headed by Enrico Letta, a professor who had been formerly appointed as the technocratic head of a big-tent coalition government in 2013. His 10-month premiership ended as a result of scuffles inside his party, and he was succeeded in February 2014 by Matteo Renzi.
Renzi himself, while no longer a member of the Democratic Party, is running for PM again this year – this time, as a candidate of a considerably smaller centrist coalition called the Third Pole (Terzo Polo).
The Five Star Movement is also headed by a familiar face: Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer who presided over two coalition cabinets from 2018 to 2021 and led Italy through the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. His downfall was triggered by ex-PM Matteo Renzi, who withdrew his support from the coalition and triggered a governmental crisis.
And lastly, Italy’s longtime ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has made a phoenix-like comeback as part of the right-wing coalition.
3. Italy has had 67 governments since the end of World War II
Italy is a country that is famed for its political instability, and so it comes as little surprise that it has seen 67 cabinets since the end of World War II.
That averages out to approximately one government every 13 months.
There is a multitude of reasons for the volatility of governments in Italy. Part of this is rooted in the country’s ever-changing electoral laws.
Professor Daniele Pasquinucci, a historian at the University of Siena, told Euronews that the matter is complex and cannot be reduced to a single factor.
“I don’t want to say this is a typically Italian problem,” he noted, pointing out France’s history of changing governments. “But it’s rooted in various issues. The electoral systems Italy has can, in a certain context, provoke instability, as well as internal squabbles in parties.”
4. Outgoing PM Mario Draghi was ousted by Giuseppe Conte – the same PM he had replaced
The labyrinthine world of Roman politics, politics can often be a game of tit-for-tat.
In January 2021 – deep in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and just as the vaccination scheme was being rolled out – premier Giuseppe Conte was ousted after former PM Renzi withdrew his support from the coalition.
Mario Draghi, nicknamed Super Mario for his acclaimed fiscal policies, was chosen and appointed as prime minister.
But come this July, Draghi found himself having to resign as a result of a government crisis triggered by none other than the aggrieved Five Star Movement leader, Conte, himself.
The crisis emerged after disagreements on how economic aid funds should be spent and saw three of the government’s coalition parties abstaining from a confidence vote.
5. Probable next PM Giorgia Meloni once described Mussolini as a ‘good politician’
In a recently resurfaced interview with French TV from 1996, a 19-year-old Giorgia Meloni — then a budding student activist — can be seen describing Benito Mussolini as a “good politician”
Meloni, who leads the Brothers of Italy movement, has been widely criticised by her detractors for not shaking off the party’s neo-fascist roots, even maintaining the tricolour flame symbol of the post-fascist Italian Social Movement.
In an interview with Euronews, Meloni aligned herself with conservatives such as the UK’s Conservative Party, US Republicans, and Israel’s Likud, and did not make any allusions to any neo-Fascist tendencies inside her party.
“Brothers of Italy is the party of the Italian Conservatives: we believe in individual freedom and the importance of the family, in the Italian, European and Western cultural identity, in private entrepreneurship and social solidarity,” she stated. “We are a modern governmental right wing, which today in Italy governs 15 out of 20 regions.”
She has also rejected the ‘Eurosceptic’ label – in response to her purportedly cavalier attitude towards Brussels – and instead prefers to be defined as a ‘Eurorealist’.
6. Nationalist candidate Matteo Salvini had cheered for Italy’s defeat in the football world cup
Matteo Salvini is often credited for unleashing a populist and nationalist tide that helped pave the way for Meloni, who eventually nabbed him of his popularity.
Few outside of Italy may be aware of how — prior to his ascension to power — Salvini was actually a left-wing separatist – who even cheered for Italy’s opponent, France, in the 2006 World Cup.
His party, the Northern League, was founded in 1989 as a separatist movement that wanted independence for Italy’s prosperous Po Valley regions.
Part of its rhetoric was steeped in Nordicism — extolling northern Italy’s Celtic heritage — and a sense of disdain for a purportedly corrupt, Mafia-ridden Rome and south, with the capital being nicknamed Roma ladrona (‘Rome the robber’).
Such anti-southern sentiment was deeply intertwined with anti-Italian rhetoric. The party’s former leader, Umberto Bossi, was even convicted in 1997 for saying that he used the Italian flag as toilet paper.
Following a set of corruption scandals, Salvini re-branded the once-moribund party and made it a hard-right, nationalist force with an “Italians First” mantra.
Perhaps another skeleton in Salvini’s closet is that the hardline right-winger was a Communist and even ran on a far-left ticket in the 1990s.
He admits to having been a member of the Leoncavallo – a radical social centre in a squatted Milan factory.
7. Beach lidos are a point of discussion
Outside of Italy, it may seem that a political discussion on the future of beach businesses would be a trivial issue in the midst of a particularly delicate global economic and geopolitical context.
But in a South European country with 7,500 kilometre-long coastline and 12,166 lidos, it’s a matter of significant controversy.
As part of the EU Recovery and Resilience plan supported by the outgoing Draghi government, concessions for beach establishments — largely family-run businesses — are to be put to tender in 2024.
This comes after years of Brussels pressure to open up the beach market to competition, which Italian governments have tended to resist.
Bathing clubs across the country are contesting this move, leading to a particularly heated set of confrontations with both the Rome establishment and environmental activists.
Most prominently, Brothers of Italy has opposed the EU-backed move and supported the disgruntled lido lords, with one of the party’s senators, Antonio Iannone, saying they would “keep fighting for bathing establishments” as a result of what he calls an “evident injustice”.
8. An attempted coalition between centrists and the left lasted five days
Shortly after the snap election was called, an attempt was put in place in August to establish a coalition between the centre-left bloc (headed by the Democratic Party) and a newly formed party led by centrist Democratic Party breakaway Carlo Calenda.
This alliance was intended to counter the growing power of the right-wing bloc, but it did not come to fruition – indeed, it lasted only five days.
Calenda claimed that the centre-left bloc did not have “courage, beauty, seriousness and love”, and decided to form an alliance with another Democratic Party dissident – Matteo Renzi.
This acrimonious fallout has resulted in the centre-left and centrist leaders trading blows, especially on social media.
9. Former PM and 85-year-old candidate Silvio Berlusconi has landed on Tik Tok
For many across the world, Silvio Berlusconi is remembered for his scandals rather than his policies. But the controversial television tycoon and former PM is still in the running and has now spread his wings on another side of the media – Tik Tok.
At the start of the month, Berlusconi landed on the social media app in an effort to appeal to young voters, even quipping that he was not there to attract their “girlfriends”.
He has already attracted over 500,000 followers — even more so than right-wing leader, Giorgia Meloni, who clocks in at 181,000 — but Euronews’ Rome correspondent, Giorgia Orlandi is sceptical this move will have any significant impact on his electoral prospects.
“People are now having a laugh rather than taking him seriously… his age is definitely passed,” she told Euronews.
10. Hillary Clinton endorsed Meloni as a “step forward” for women
In an interview earlier this month, former US Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – who admitted to not being well-acquainted with Meloni – claimed that her possible election would represent a “step forward” for women.
It would appear as a surprising near-endorsement, especially due to their different political backgrounds, and Meloni’s support for former Republican President Donald Trump.
The Brothers of Italy leader concurred with the former US Secretary of State’s comments and Euronews that her election would be “breaking [a] taboo” as well as the “‘glass ceiling’, that one that still in many western countries, not only in Italy, prevents women from achieving important public roles in society”. She also laid out an ambitious programme which included providing “support to the companies that hire women and fight against the gender pay gap, family-work reconciliation tools, wider and more efficient services (starting with kindergartens), [and] a family-friendly tax system.”
Other women on the left, however, are not so convinced.
Italian Democratic Party MP Lia Quartapelle told Euronews that Meloni represented a “token” woman figure from the right.
“I’ve never seen her fight or have any energy for these issues in the past,” Quartapelle stated. “Her vision does not attempt to change the social structure of inequality.”