Italy apathetically faces elections that are worrying the whole of Europe | International

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The streets of Rome are as dirty as ever, but this time the citizens will be spared the decaying landscape that always emerges after the electoral battle. No one has hung those posters that appear later during an entire legislature below the advertisements for electrical appliances or clothing. No leaflets are handed out and no one tries to get a vote out of a canvas booth when you rush out in the morning. There is also hardly any public debate in the streets or bars, and not even the candidates have agreed to confront their ideas on television (there was only one face-to-face in the Corriere della Sera between Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy, and Enrico Letta, secretary of the Democratic Party).

Giorgia Meloni speaks during a rally in Duomo square ahead of the September 25 elections.Photo: Flavio Lo Scalzo (REUTERS) | Video: ANTONIO NIETO

The victory of the extreme right is taken so much for granted that there are no heroes willing to invest a second in fighting it. The silence, however, contrasts with the enormous expectations raised outside of Italy these days, where the elections are considered a crucial moment that will mark the possible consolidation of the extreme right in Europe. And that, especially in the internal electoral key of each country, is what worries the most.

The Democratic Party, with Enrico Letta at the head, aspires to mobilize more electorate and surpass the second place that most polls give it. YARA NARDI (REUTERS)

The campaign, permanently muted and weighed down by the summer holidays, gives the impression of showing its most emotional and political side outside the Italian borders. The first sounding board was placed in Russia and the Ukraine on account of the sanctions, the war and the possible interference of the Kremlin in the match being played in Rome. Accomplices wanted. And a week ago The Republic published an alleged report by the United States secret services that accused several countries of having politicians in the pay of Moscow. The head of government, Mario Draghi, made a veiled reference to the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, accusing him of secretly speaking with the Russians. He defended himself and requested a rectification from the US Embassy. The problem is that there was nothing in Italy: the electorate, worried about inflation and rising energy prices, did not seem to care in the least. And the right ended up using it as fuel to deny the eternal suspicion of Russian financing.

The magnetism generated by the campaign abroad contrasts so much with the domestic passivity that Enrico Letta, secretary of the PD, went to Berlin on Monday to meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He did it in the middle of the campaign, as if he could get more revenue from abroad than walking the streets of Italy. And he managed a stunning statement: “Meloni and the post-fascists would lead Italy down the wrong path.” The front pages once again stirred fear from abroad: “Terror on Wall Street”, “The premium and the debt, through the roof”. And soon it was learned that Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, close to the Kremlin, had promised in an internal meeting of his party that, after Meloni’s victory, they would withdraw European sanctions on Russia. But the electorate, experts point out, remains completely unchanged.

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Matteo Salvini, from the far-right La Liga party and in decline in voting intentions, wants to play a key role in the future government led by Meloni's far-right.
Matteo Salvini, from the far-right La Liga party and in decline in voting intentions, wants to play a key role in the future government led by Meloni’s far-right. YARA NARDI (REUTERS)

The fable of Peter and the Wolf

Giovanni Orsina, a political scientist and accurate analyst of Italian politics, believes that the country has had “public opinion in constant hysteria” for years and compares the situation to the fable of Peter and the Wolf. All elections seem like the end of the world. A scenario in which everything that happens can end Italy. But voters no longer buy that idea. The alleged fascist threat comes from afar. Cossiga at the end of the seventies was a coup plotter and a fascist, and let’s not say what has been said about Berlusconi. Already in 2001 Umberto Eco began to talk about the moral referendum [contra la coalición que encabezaba Silvio Berlusconi]. And 29 years have passed. People are tired. If you raise the emotional temperature of a town relentlessly, in the end the town no longer believes anything.

Italian indifference gives way to the scenario of deep abstention, estimated in the latest polls at around 35%. If confirmed, it would be the highest in Republican history (turnout in the last elections was 72.9%) The political merry-go-round has moved so much ―five electoral laws in 30 years, eight governments in 12 years and three in the last legislature – that even the Italians have ended up dizzy. “For us it will be key to mobilize that electorate. Especially the young”, the social democrat Letta pointed out to this newspaper. But that electorate is still far from politics (they represent 40.3%) and their preferred option is the M5S.

Giuseppe Conte's 5-Star Movement has managed to rebound in recent polls, standing at 13.5%, one point above La Liga.
Giuseppe Conte’s 5-Star Movement has managed to rebound in recent polls, standing at 13.5%, one point above La Liga. YARA NARDI (REUTERS)

Nando Pagnoncelli, poll specialist and author of the polls of the run from it will be, attributes the climate to various reasons. “The campaign started in August, which is the month of vacations. People were thinking of other things, and this vacation was the first after two years of the pandemic. The second important fact is that many Italians have not understood the reasons for the end of the Draghi government: now they are disillusioned and skeptical”, he points out. No government majority has repeated two elections in a row in Italy in recent decades. And that creates disenchantment. What does it translate to? “In a strong electoral mobility and in a probable increase in abstention ―turnout is estimated at 65%―. Phenomenon that benefits the center-right parties, because [el abstencionismo] it comes, mainly, from the electorate of the parties that have been in government”, insists Pagnoncelli.

The climate of indifference, moreover, is favored by the idea, more or less true, that whoever lands in the Chigi Palace will not be able to touch too many things. In the economic section, with runaway inflation, the threat of the markets and 200,000 million euros that must come from Europe, only if an ambitious reform plan begun with Draghi is fulfilled, they do not give much room. Orsina recalls that “the issue of rights will not progress: it will be a clear right-wing policy.” “But in economic terms and in other incisive matters, they will not be able to do anything. It should be remembered that in 2018 there was a different climate, more anti-European and much more populist. More aggressive with Brussels and with Salvini himself as vice president. And despite everything, when they made the 2019 budget law, they agreed and negotiated a deficit of 2.04%. One of the lowest that Italy has done. And it was the great revolutionary government! That Executive kept the accounts in order. Today, in a different situation, with a more structured government, what are you going to do? Little bit”.

Fear, in short, has more to do with the contagion that may occur if Meloni ends up being prime minister. On Tuesday, in an interview with the EFE agency, she herself showed the way: “I hope that a victory paves the way for Vox in Spain.” An idea that will be shared by each and every one of the allies of the Brothers of Italy in Europe.

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