Italy’s anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini, who trails far-right Giorgia Meloni in the polls ahead of next week’s general election, sought on Sunday to bolster his far-right, populist, Eurosceptic base.
“This is Italy, full of hope and dreams and looking to the future,” Salvini told the crowd in the northern city of Pontida, which has been the scene of the far-right’s annual mass gathering for three decades.
On Sunday it was awash with the flags of the Italian provinces and the banners of the General Union (UGL), created in 1996 from the ashes of the neo-fascist CISNAL union.
Salvini’s League party claimed 100,000 people turned up, many bussing in to hear “Il Capitano,” drink beer and buy T-shirts with Salvini’s name and the slogan “Italians first.”
The league trails Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy (FDI) and sits 12 percent behind the FDI’s 24 in polls.
Polls suggest that immigration is less of a concern for Italians than rampant inflation, which is weighing on already stagnant wages.
Salvini welcomed the result of the Swedish general election, in which voters “sent the left home” and ushered in an alliance between the right and the far right.
He acknowledged that Americans had rejected former US President Donald Trump and his “America first” reputation in favor of Democrat Joe Biden. “This is democracy,” he said.
Salvini said the league’s top six priorities are curbing rising energy prices and developing nuclear power, strengthening regions’ decision-making powers, conducting tax and legal reforms, guaranteeing retirement after 41 years of service and preventing immigrant boats from landing on Italy’s coasts.
He also proposed abolishing television license fees, defended women’s right to abortion and “traditional values” around gender and family.
The League, FDI and former leader Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia form a coalition that is seen as the favorites for the September 25 election.
The league’s current estimated vote share of 12 percent would represent a notable drop from its performances in 2018 and 2019 as it participated in successive governments while FDI remained in opposition.
League activist Anna Valdotta, 67, told AFP some supporters didn’t forgive Salvini and left, but she remained loyal to the man she likened to “a lion entering the arena.”
Stefano, a 27-year-old postman, praised Meloni’s leadership, saying she was more likely to win votes than Salvini lost them.
The League has toned down its secessionist aspirations for Lombardy, focusing instead on what it calls a German-French-dominated European Union “declaring war on Italian farmers and fishermen.”
The left-wing mainstream Democratic Party (PD) held a rally in nearby Monza, at which its leader Enrico Letta criticized the Italian right’s ties to populist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The PD is expected to come in second with 21 percent of the vote and does not have much support on the left and center.