Italians braced for a seismic change on Saturday, on the eve of a slated election to give Italy the most right-wing government since World War II.
Exit Mario Draghi, respected around the world, and, according to the polls, with the eurosceptic Giorgia Meloni, leader of the post-fascist party of the Brothers of Italy, widely tipped to become the first woman Prime Minister of the country.
“The country is thirsty for change, for a new face,” Wolfango Piccoli of London-based political risk consultancy Teneo told AFP.
The vote comes as Italy struggles with a series of crises, from runaway inflation and extreme weather events linked to climate change to an energy crisis worsened by war in Ukraine.
The campaign, sparked by Draghi’s fall in July, ended on Friday, giving Italians a day’s reprieve as campaigning is banned until the vote.
It was an opportunity to look back at some of the highlights of a race that saw parties try to win over voters with ideas such as sending goods from northern to southern Italy by tube and fighting against climate change with cannabis.
Meloni, 45, has worked hard in recent weeks to reassure skittish investors and an anxious Brussels that his party’s historic ties to supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini are a thing of the past.
She toned down her tone, wore lots of pink and posted a video of herself on TikTok baking traditional pastries from the Puglia region.
But she channeled the warrior Aragorn from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings on Thursday at the closing rally of the right-wing coalition, which unites her Brothers from Italy with Matteo Salvini’s Anti-Immigration League party and billionaire Silvio’s Forza Italia. Berlusconi.
The self-proclaimed ‘Christian mother’ went smoothly from king of fantasy to blaming the left for the country’s ‘drug dealers, thieves, rapists and mafia’, adding: ‘This Italy ends on Sunday’.
Berlusconi, 85, was at his side. The media mogul, who is accused of bribing starlets not to witness his allegedly erotic parties, has campaigned primarily online, courting grandmothers and housewives nationwide with promises of home wages.
He also chased away the youth vote with TikTok jokes – including one about not trying to steal from their girlfriends.
Former Interior Minister Salvini, 49, campaigned under the slogan “Credo” (I believe), which earned him a reprimand from the Catholic Church.
Afraid of losing a significant portion of his supporters to Meloni, Salvini tried to distance himself by calling for an end to sanctions against Russia and railing against Brussels.
But the end of his campaign was overshadowed by a video clip of him describing a blind League candidate on Thursday as “an eye for Italians”.
Center-left Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party (PD), traveled to his last rally in an electric van – reminding voters of his earlier efforts to promote green transport, when his electric campaign bus crashed battery failure.
His main rival for votes on the left, Giuseppe Conte, leader of the populist movement Five Stars (M5S), seemed more enduring.
He was photographed head and shoulders above the crowd amid crowds of supporters so often that the media dubbed him the “Madonna of Travel”.