When Giorgia Meloni burst onto the political scene for the first time in 2006 as the youngest ever vice-president of the National Alliance party, she sealed her fate as a far-right politician.
The National Alliance, formerly the Italian Social Movement, was unapologetically neo-fascist, formed by supporters of Benito Mussolini. Meloni himself openly admired the dictator as a young man, but later distanced himself from his brand of fascism – despite keeping the tricolor flame symbolizing the eternal fire on his grave in the logo for the Brothers of Italy, the party that they co-founded in 2012.
Now the 45-year-old ultra-conservative unwed mother looks likely to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
Her far-right Brothers of Italy party, which is leading the polls for the September 25 general election, received only 4.5 percent of the vote in the last election in 2018.
Her popularity has soared since then, in no small part because she has kept herself in the spotlight with an active social media presence, and has kept her party on the message board without wavering from a conservative agenda that It questions LGBT rights, abortion rights and immigration. policy.
Hers was also the only mainstream party not to join the unity government formed by Mario Draghi after Giuseppe Conte’s administration fell in 2021, demanding new elections instead as another technocratic fix. When Draghi’s government collapsed in turn in July, Sunday’s snap election was postponed.
A darling of the global conservative movement, Meloni was a favorite protégé of Republican strategist Steve Bannon, who headlined their party conferences in Italy before the Covid-19 pandemic and his own legal troubles. Bannon recently endorsed her again, saying in a statement to CNN: “Meloni, like Thatcher, she will fight and win.”
Meloni has spoken at several US C-Pac conventions, telling the group in 2022 that conservatives are under attack.
“We (conservatives) are proud of our identities, of what we stand for. We live in an age where everything we stand for is under attack: our individual freedom is under attack, our rights are under attack , the sovereignty of our nations is under attack, the prosperity and well-being of our families is under attack, our children’s education is under attack. With this, people understand that in this era, the only way to be rebellious is to preserve who we are, the only way to be rebellious is to be conservative,” she said.
She was raised by a single mother in the bordering left-wing Garbatella district of Rome, far from the tourist attractions in the center of the capital. A group of elderly men, sitting on a park bench in the district’s central square, shook their heads at the mention of her name. “She doesn’t represent me,” coffee bar owner Marizio Tagliani told CNN. “She does not represent this neighborhood.”
Meloni represents a growing number of conservative Italians who agree with her ideals about the traditional family falling in line with her powerful Catholic Church.
She is openly anti-LBGT, and threatens that same-sex unions, which were legalized in Italy in 2016, may be under review.
She also called abortion a “tragedy” and the regions in Italy where her party is in office have already seen abortion restrictions and lack of services, including not following a national policy that allows clinics to provide the abortion pill and only allowing abortions to go up to seven weeks, including the mandatory waiting period of one week for a woman to “reflect” on her decision – while the national guidelines suggest 9 weeks.
Her partners in Italy’s center-right political alliance, Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, are also partly responsible for her popularity. Berlusconi named her as his sports minister, during his 2008 government, making her the youngest minister to hold that position.
She spars regularly with Salvini, whose popularity is slowly declining. Before the 2018 elections, she was his junior partner in the centre-right alliance. This time she is in charge, and has hinted that if elected she may not give Salvini a ministerial portfolio, which would deprive him of the power to potentially topple her government.
She differs from both Salvini and Berlusconi on a number of issues, including Ukraine, and has no ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike her election partners, who have said they want to consider sanctions against Russia over its influence on the Italian economy Instead, Meloni has been steadfast in her support for defending Ukraine.
The prospect of a female leader in a country traditionally dominated by men has some wondering if she will be judged under a different set of rules than her male counterparts.
“We never had a female prime minister. I think we are definitely ready for it. At long last, I would also add,” Dario Fabbri, a political analyst and editor of the political magazine Domino, told CNN. “But the way the whole society will receive her is something I don’t know. That is something unknown for them and for us.”
Emiliana De Blasio, consultant for diversity and inclusion at the LUISS University in Rome told CNN that Meloni’s politics are more important than her gender, but that she has not proven herself first as a feminist.
“We have to reflect on the fact that Giorgia Meloni does not ask questions at all about women’s rights and empowerment in general,” she said.
Fabbri acknowledges that it may be easier for Meloni to find acceptance on the world stage than in Italy, where only 49% of women work outside the home, according to the World Economic Forum’s gender survey.
“It will depend on how she will act. How she will present herself to the world leaders. I think she walked a very fine line when it comes to her image, her past positions on many issues, and until so far she hasn’t committed many crimes in this election campaign,” he told CNN.
“But of course, being at the helm of the government is something very different. So, I think the way she will be received has little to do with prejudice against Italy, but about how she will present herself to ‘ e world leaders.