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Far-right Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni votes at a polling station in Rome, on Sept. 25.Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press

Giorgia Meloni’s upstart Brothers of Italy and its two coalition partners placed first in the Italian election, putting the European Union’s third-largest economy on course to take its most radical swing to the hard right since the Fascist era ended at the close of the Second World War and install the country’s first female prime minister.

Their win was expected – the only question was the size of their majority.

The first exit polls published by Rai, the national broadcaster, had the right-wing coalition taking 42 per cent of the vote, giving them a majority in both houses of Parliament, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. But their showing was expected to be short of the landslide that would have handed them the super-majority of seats required to change the constitution.

Far-right wins Italian election

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni has claimed victory in

Italy’s election and is on course to become the nation’s first

female prime minister. She will lead a far-right government

Projected seats in Chamber of Deputies

Brothers of Italy

Right-wing 118

Forza Italia

Centre-right 47

Other centre-right 9

Democratic Party

Centre-left 57

League

Far-right 64

+Europe 10

Other centre-left

11

Five Star

Movement

Populist 52

Turnout:

63.91%

Azione

Liberal 20

400

seats

Majority: 201

Result

must be

confirmed

Others 12

graphic news; Source: Quorum/YouTrend via Reuters

Far-right wins Italian election

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni has claimed victory in

Italy’s election and is on course to become the nation’s first

female prime minister. She will lead a far-right government

Projected seats in Chamber of Deputies

Brothers of Italy

Right-wing 118

Forza Italia

Centre-right 47

Other centre-right 9

Democratic Party

Centre-left 57

League

Far-right 64

+Europe 10

Other centre-left

11

Five Star

Movement

Populist 52

Turnout:

63.91%

Azione

Liberal 20

400

seats

Majority: 201

Result

must be

confirmed

Others 12

graphic news; Source: Quorum/YouTrend via Reuters

Far-right wins Italian election

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni has claimed victory in Italy’s election and is on course

to become the nation’s first female prime minister. She will lead a far-right government

Projected seats in Chamber of Deputies

Brothers of Italy

Right-wing 118

Forza Italia

Centre-right 47

Other centre-right 9

Democratic Party

Centre-left 57

League

Far-right 64

+Europe 10

Other centre-left

11

Five Star

Movement

Populist 52

Azione

Liberal 20

Turnout:

63.91%

400

seats

Majority: 201

Result

must be

confirmed

Others 12

graphic news; Source: Quorum/YouTrend via Reuters

The right’s victory came as a blow to the centre-left Democratic Party, or PD, which had hoped to pick up broad support among the millions of undecided voters who feared that Ms. Meloni’s populist, Euroskeptic, highly nationalistic and anti-LGBTQ stances – which she has tried to tone down in recent months – would resurface and come to define her rule. Exit polls said the PD-led coalition was set to win 26 per cent.

The victory of the 45-year-old Ms. Meloni, whose party won about 25 per cent of the votes, against a mere 4 per cent in the last election, delivers a boost to the European right, whose leading forces include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the new alliance in Sweden that defeated the centre-left government this month, and Spain’s rising Vox party.

The Brothers will start negotiations to form a government with two vastly diminished but still somewhat influential right-wing parties: Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the hard-right League party, led by Matteo Salvini, a former interior minister whose term was defined by his aggressive anti-migrant policies.

Both Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Salvini have expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, creating fears in the NATO alliance that Italy’s pro-Ukraine, pro-sanctions stance forged under prime minister Mario Draghi might crumble under a Meloni government.

The right’s victory marks the end of the technical government of Mr. Draghi, who is credited with saving the euro when he was president of the European Central Bank and, when he led the Italian government, of negotiating a pandemic relief package worth almost €200-billion ($263-billion).

His unity government collapsed in July, almost a year ahead of the scheduled elections, when Forza Italia, the League and another big party, the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, pulled their support for Mr. Draghi over differences in spending philosophy and the sanctions unleashed against Moscow.

Ms. Meloni, whose party refused to join Mr. Draghi’s unity government, will form her government at a time of massive economic upheaval within Italy and the EU.

Tom Rachman: The woman poised to be Italy’s next leader used to love Mussolini. Can we trust Giorgia Meloni?

Many EU countries, including Italy, appear to be headed into recession as energy costs soar, interest rates rise, consumer and business confidence fall, and manufacturers curtail or close production to save costs as near double-digit inflation rates eat into their profits.

“My concern is the depth of the Brothers’ bench and how many competent people they will have to fill the ministries,” Megan Greene, global chief economist at Kroll Institute and senior fellow at Chatham House, said in an interview. “They may have the same problem as Syriza did in Greece in lack of talent and experience. If that’s the case, their execution on anything will become difficult and Italy may see its finances deteriorate.”

Italy’s growth rates are slowing and its sovereign bond yields have climbed, though they have been fairly stable in recent weeks, apparently reflecting investors’ belief that the new Italian government, when confronted with harsh economic reality, will lack the fiscal flexibility to finance lower taxes and a lower retirement age – two of Ms. Meloni’s touted initiatives.

Already, Italy’s debt, at close to 150 per cent of gross domestic product, among the highest in the industrialized world, is considered close to unsustainable in a country prone to recession and suffering from population loss and almost no growth in per capita GDP in 20 years.

Italy's far-right Brothers of Italy party surged to victory in the Italian elections Sunday taking 26% of the vote, up from 4% in 2018. Party leader Giorgia Meloni is now positioned to be Italy's first woman to become prime minister. The party has neo-fascist roots and Meloni defines herself as a conservative who believes in God, nation and family, with policies proposals including a naval blockade to keep out migrants. She has also railed against what she calls the LGBTQ lobby.

Ms. Meloni is a firebrand workaholic and is considered a breath of fresh air among voters. They seemed weary of the established parties, especially on the left, which failed to form a broad-based united front and produce a message of hope. Instead, the centre-left tried to stoke fear among voters that a far-right government would become a liberty- and economy-crushing disaster.

Democratic Party Leader Enrico Letta said that Mr. Draghi’s forced exodus meant that Italy and the EU “will lose an engine and acquire a brake.”

Ms. Meloni’s Brothers are the heirs to the neo-fascist parties that grew out of the Italian Social Movement, which was founded by loyalists to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The Movement’s successor was the National Alliance; Ms. Meloni became the president of its youth wing in 2004 and was elected to Parliament two years later, becoming a junior minister in the government of Mr. Berlusconi.

In 2012, she recast the Alliance as the Brothers of Italy and made it the vanguard of nationalistic, family-centred Christian conservatism with a Euroskeptic streak. While she has denied she is remotely nostalgic for Italy’s fascists of the past, her party maintains the fascists’ motto: “God, family, fatherland.”

Her popularity soared after the 2018 Italian election, when her nationalistic stance and opposition to immigration and what she called the “LGBT lobbies,” plus her reputation as a hard-hitting, hard-working social-media-savvy newcomer in a sea of tired old men, began to resonate with centre-right and hard-right voters.

She admires Hungary’s strongman leader, Mr. Orban, and, two weeks ago, sprang to his defence when the European Parliament voted to denounce Hungary as an illiberal democracy.

Ms. Meloni denies her party has any connection to, or sympathy for, fascism. In August, she produced a video in which she said that “fascism has been consigned to history.” She condemned Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and took a pro-NATO, pro-sanctions line, though her stance did not prove entirely convincing to some senior European officials.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that Europe has “the tools” to deal with Italy if a new government toes in a “difficult direction.” Her message was seen as a reference to the EC’s ability to cut funds to EU countries they insist are violating the rule of law. For instance, the EC has proposed withholding some €7.5-billion (about $9.8-billion) in funding that had been allocated to Hungary.