Brussels on alert for new far-right leader as Italians head to polls after Draghi crisis

Italy will hold a snap national election on September 25 after Prime Minister Mario Draghi resigned following the collapse of his national unity government, sending tremors through financial markets.

It will be the first autumn national election for more than a century in Italy, where the second half of the year is normally taken up with getting the budget law through parliament.

It is likely to be a fractious campaign fought in the fierce summer heat in a drought-hit country.

A bloc of conservative parties, led by the far-right Brothers of Italy, looks likely to win a clear majority at the ballot, a study of opinion polls showed this week.

Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, welcomed the news of elections, which were not scheduled until the first half of next year.

She was the only major leader not to join Draghi’s government and her popularity has soared in opposition. Her group polled just 4 percent in the 2018 election, but is now seen winning more than 22 percent, making it Italy’s largest party.

If the conservative bloc wins the September ballot, she will decide who should be prime minister and might promote herself to the top job.

A recent poll by YouTrend and Cattaneo Zanetto & Co. showed that the centre-right bloc could win a clear majority at the election.

The poll predicted that Matteo Salvini’s League, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy would win up to 221 of the 400 seats in the lower House of Parliament.

Ms Meloni is already well-known in Brussels as leader of the ECR Party in the European Parliament.

Her eurosceptic views have softened throughout the years but her party is still famous for its neo-fascist roots and staunch anti-immigration stance.

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Mr Draghi, an unelected former central banker who has led a broad coalition for almost 18 months, handed in his resignation earlier on Thursday and was asked by President Sergio Mattarella to stay on in a caretaker capacity.

“We must deal with the emergencies related to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, inflation and the cost of energy,” he told cabinet colleagues.

He said that the government must also implement the National Recovery and Resilience Plan that sees Italy tapping billions of euros of post-pandemic European Union funds in return for reforms.

Although the vote is set for the end of September, it might take weeks of haggling before a new administration is sworn in.

Mr Draghi’s coalition crumbled on Wednesday when three of his main partners snubbed a confidence vote he had called to try to end divisions and renew their troubled alliance.

He had sought to reassert his authority as parties began to pull in different directions before the planned end of the legislature in the first half of next year.

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The political crisis has up-ended months of stability in Italy, during which Mr Draghi had helped shape Europe’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and had boosted the country’s standing in financial markets.

Italian bond and stocks sold off sharply on concerns that the political crisis would delay reforms and that the new government might be a tougher partner for the European Union.

Italy’s 10-year bond yields rose to a one-month peak at 3.75 percent before pulling back to around 3.60 percent in late trade.

Mr Draghi, Italy’s sixth prime minister in a decade, had drawn warm applause from MPs when he made a brief appearance in the lower house of parliament on Thursday, signalling his intention to step down.

“Even central bankers have their hearts touched sometimes,” he quipped as he received the ovation.

The former European Central Bank (ECB) president had helped to give Italy a stronger presence on the international stage.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked him for his “unwavering support”.

“I’m convinced that the active support of Italian people for Ukraine will continue,” he said on Twitter.

Although unelected, Mr Draghi was popular with many Italians fed up with years of revolving door governments.

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