Who's afraid of Giorgia Meloni?

Who's afraid of Giorgia Meloni?

Italy's politics are a rollercoaster ride in the best of times — the country has had 18 governments in the past 32 years — and despite the best efforts of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi to navigate the COVID crisis, Italians may well be in for another sharp turn in coming months.

This time, however, populist firebrand Matteo Salvini may not find himself in the front seat. Meet Giorgia Meloni, Italy's rising populist star.


Italy's state of play. Three years ago, Salvini looked to be Italy's prime minister in waiting. But a series of political missteps, including his push for an ill-conceived early election in 2019, left him in opposition. Salvini remained the country's most popular politician, but in 2020, COVID devastated Italy and its economy, blunting the force of Salvini's anti-immigrant, anti-EU message by leaving the country dependent on outside help.

After the previous government collapsed, Draghi, a former European Central Bank president, was called upon in February 2021 to form a government of national unity. Faced with the pandemic — the coronavirus has killed more people in Italy than in any other EU country — and the need to work with the EU on financial relief for his beleaguered country, Draghi extended a hand to both the left and right. The center-left Democratic Party and anti-establishment Five Star party agreed to join his coalition. Crucially, so did Lega, Salvini's party.

That's when Salvini and his Lega party began to drop in the polls. Some voters who liked his anti-immigrant fist-shaking and his attacks on EU leaders decided that Salvini had sold out by letting Lega join Draghi's government, which has accepted EU reform demands in exchange for rescue funds.

In search of a more authentic far-right alternative, they turned to the Brothers of Italy, the largest party in parliament that refused to join Draghi's unity coalition. Since then, that party's charismatic leader, Giorgia Meloni, has been rising in the polls.

A survey this month from Corriere della Sera, a Milan-based daily newspaper, named Meloni the second most popular politician in Italy after former prime minister Giuseppe Conte. Salvini is now tied for fourth after falling from 39 percent approval one year ago to 30 percent. A range of polls also reveals that Brothers of Italy is now the country's fastest-rising party, and Lega is the fastest falling. Lega's remaining lead in polls of all parties has dwindled to almost nothing.

Meet Meloni. Just 43, Meloni has more than 25 years' experience of bare-knuckled Italian politics. Still a teenager, she joined the youth group within Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), a barely reconstructed fascist party inspired by Benito Mussolini. After moving to the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), she became minister of youth in one of the many governments led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. In 2014, she helped found Brothers of Italy.

The party has struck an even harder line than Lega has. The Brothers want to blockade migrants from reaching Italian ports, boost Italy's birth-rate to ease the need for migrant labor, and defend "God, fatherland and family," an old-school fascist slogan.

Though Meloni doesn't favor an Italian exit from the EU, she wants to "re-discuss" existing EU treaties and the single currency. She also wants to amend Italy's constitution to give Italian law priority over European law. But it's her decision to keep Brothers of Italy out of the current government that underscores her talent as a political strategist.

Meloni's moment? In recent months, COVID has forced Italians to worry less about migrants than about vaccines and economic recovery. That's about to change. The pandemic will ease in coming months, and more boats will head for Italian shores. In fact, more than 13,000 people have already arrived this year, triple the amount over the same period last year. Warmer weather will continue that surge.

Italy will hold elections sometime between early next year and mid-2023, and if Draghi decides he would rather become president than remain prime minister once the pandemic has lifted, the earlier time frame for elections becomes likely. With support from Berlusconi's Forza Italia, Lega and Brothers of Italy might well form the next government.

If so, that might ignite a true battle for the right. Meloni and Salvini both want to be prime minister. Only one can carry the day.

Okuafo Pa means good farmer in the Twi language of West Africa. Hence, the naming of the project reflects the value of good farming and the rewards it brings to the people of Ghana. The Okuafo Pa Project will support Ghana's sustainable development by promoting socio-economic growth and sustainable business models.

Watch to learn how Eni is helping youth to develop agricultural knowledge and skills.

Iranians head to the polls on Friday to vote for president, and it appears a foregone conclusion that hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the nation's top judge, will win.

Outsiders, and many Iranians, roll their eyes at the predictability of this vote. Iran's Guardian Council, a dozen clerics and judges who answer only to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has cleared the field for Raisi by ruling all of his credible challengers ineligible. The fix is in, and Iranians are now preparing for a moment when anti-reform conservatives, those who oppose social change inside Iran and deeper engagement with the West, will for the first time ever control the country's presidency, parliament, courts, and much of the media.

But simmering beneath the cynicism and predictability of this event is a deepening anxiety over Iran's future as it enters a potentially momentous period in the Islamic Republic's 42-year history. The Supreme Leader, in power for 32 years, is now 82 years old. Very few people know the true state of his health. Even if he outlives Raisi's presidency, which could last four or eight years, preparations for a historic, uncertain, and potentially dangerous leadership transition will intensify soon.

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Iranians head to the polls on June 18, in what's widely perceived to be a foregone outcome. Analysts predict that popular disillusionment with Iran's political class will make this one of the lowest turnout elections in Iran's post-revolution history. According to one poll taken by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, as few as 42 percent of the eligible voting population is expected to show up. We take a look at contemporary Iran's demographics, and how this year's vote turnout might compare to previous elections.

Latin America needs vaccines: The World Health Organization has called on the G7 countries that pledged to donate a billion COVID vaccine doses to the developing world to prioritize Latin America, with WHO officials pointing to the fact that out of the top 10 countries with the highest COVID death tolls per capita over the past week, nine are in Latin America, where many health systems are overstretched and vaccines are scarce. This call comes as Latin America's COVID death toll has surpassed 1 million. Cases and deaths are soaring in Argentina and Colombia, for instance, while Brazil has fully vaccinated just 11 percent of its population despite recording the world's second highest death toll. Even Chile, which has carried out Latin America's most successful vaccination campaign to date, has been forced to delay reopening due to a recent surge in infections among unvaccinated younger people. The WHO says prioritizing the region for vaccine donations makes sense in order to stop large sustained outbreaks that may spur potentially more infectious COVID variants that'll cross borders and wreak havoc in populous states. Most of the donated shots will be distributed through the COVAX facility, which is a problem for countries like Venezuela, shut out from COVAX because of payment problems.

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3: China has launched three astronauts into orbit in its first space mission since 2016. The astronauts will spend three months aboard the country's new space station, demonstrating China's resolve to become a space power following successful earlier missions to collect soil samples on the Moon and land a wheeled robot on Mars.

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In 2019, Ethiopia's fresh Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering a peace treaty with neighbor and longtime foe Eritrea. At the time, Abiy was hailed by the Western media as a reformist who was steering Ethiopia, long dominated by ethnic strife and dictatorial rule, into a new democratic era.

But barely two years later, Abiy stands accused of overseeing a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the northern Tigray region, putting the country on the brink of civil war.

It's against this backdrop that Ethiopians will head to the polls on June 21 for a parliamentary election now regarded as a referendum on Abiy's leadership. But will the vote be free and fair, and will the outcome actually reflect the will of the people? Most analysts say the answer is a resounding "no" on both fronts.

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Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Cyber issues took center stage at the G7 summit. Is there a consensus among world leaders on how to handle cyberweapons?

Well, depending on who is included, there is a growing consensus that the escalations of conflict in cyberspace must stop. And G7 leaders that are now all representing democracies did call on Russia to hold perpetrators of cybercrime that operate from within its borders to account. So, I guess hope dies last because laws in Russia prevents the extradition of suspects to the US, even if Vladimir Putin answered positively when Joe Biden asked for cooperation on that front. And when it comes to limiting the spread of tools that are used for hacking, surveillance and infiltration, the EU has just moved ahead and adopted new dual use regulations which reflect the concerns for human rights violations when journalists are targeted the way that Jamal Khashoggi was. So ending the proliferation of systems that are used to attack would be an urgent but also obvious step for democratic nations to agree on.

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Frequently called Europe's last dictator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Lukashenko has sailed smoothly to victory in all six elections he's stood in, despite widespread corruption and fraud in each one. But in 2020 the biggest threat so far to Lukashenko's tight grip on government came in an unlikely package—a former schoolteacher and stay at home mom, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. After the election result was finalized, Lukashenko claimed victory, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets, and Tsikhanouskaya leads the opposition in exile. Lukashenko recently took his boldest move yet, diverting a plane en route from Greece to Lithuania to arrest another Belarusian dissident. Ian Bremmer discusses whether a democratic transition is remotely possible in Belarus on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The fight for democracy in Europe's last dictatorship

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