Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni has claimed victory in Italy’s election, and is on course to become the country’s first female prime minister, BBC reported.
Ms Meloni is widely expected to form Italy’s most right-wing government since World War Two.
That will alarm much of Europe as Italy is the EU’s third-biggest economy.
However, speaking after the vote, Ms Meloni said her Brothers of Italy party would “govern for everyone” and would not betray people’s trust.
“Italians have sent a clear message in favour of a right-wing government led by Brothers of Italy,” she told reporters in Rome.
She is predicted to win between 22-26% of the vote, says a Rai exit poll, ahead of her closest rival Enrico Letta from the centre left.
Ms Meloni’s right-wing alliance – which also includes Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia – now looks to have control of both houses, with a projected 42.2% of the Senate vote.
Although she has worked hard to soften her image, emphasising her support for Ukraine and diluting anti-EU rhetoric, she leads a party rooted in a post-war movement that rose out of dictator Benito Mussolini’s fascists.
Earlier this year she outlined her priorities in a raucous speech to Spain’s far-right Vox party: “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology… no to Islamist violence, yes to secure borders, no to mass migration… no to big international finance… no to the bureaucrats of Brussels!”
Exit polls put the centre-left alliance well behind with 25.5%-29.5% and Democratic Party figure Debora Serracchiani said it was a sad evening for Italy. The right “has the majority in parliament, but not in the country”, she insisted, according to BBC.
Turnout was dramatically low – 63.82% by the time polls closed – said Italy’s interior ministry, almost 10 points down on 2018. Voting levels were especially poor in southern regions including Sicily.
Italy is a founding father of the European Union and a member of Nato, and Ms Meloni’s rhetoric on the EU places her close to Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor Orban.
Her allies have both had close ties with Russia. Mr Berlusconi, 85, claimed last week that Vladimir Putin was pushed into invading Ukraine while Mr Salvini has called into question Western sanctions on Moscow.
Ms Meloni wants to revisit Italian reforms agreed with the EU in return for almost €200bn (£178bn) in post-Covid recovery grants and loans, arguing that the energy crisis has changed the situation, BBC reported.