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Who is running, how voting works in Italy’s election? | Explainer News

Rome, Italy – Italy is set to vote on September 25 in a national election that will likely see its most far-right government in power since World War II, led by the country’s first female prime minister ever.

Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), a party with a post-fascist origin, is witnessing a meteoric rise – from 4 percent voter support in 2018 to a projected 25 percent this year – after political infighting led to the downfall of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

What’s the talk of the town?

Campaigning along the “God, family and homeland” motto, Meloni put on alert opponents who say her rise to power will endanger democracy, roll back civil rights and push the country closer to nationalist and far-right parties such as Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s Fidesz and Spain’s Vox party.

For 10 years, her flagship policies have been based on slamming “illegal immigrants” and gay rights lobbies and criticising the European Union.

To win the elections, she has joined forces with anti-migrant Matteo Salvini’s League party, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Forward Italy).

Berlusconi gestures during a rally in Rome [File: Filippo Monteforte/AFP]

Unlike her coalition partners, she strengthened her reputation as a “coherent” politician by standing firm in opposition after refusing to support Draghi’s cabinet. This allowed her to pick up a large slice of the country’s opposition vote.

But as Italy is set to receive 200 billion euros ($200bn) in EU recovery funds and Meloni’s chances of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister are high, she has carefully worked on mending ties with Brussels by showing a more moderate face and delivering reassuring statements.

She repeatedly stressed her coalition would not pose a threat to the bloc’s stability and pledged support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia. Critics argue though that the softening of her tone is just a temporary readjustment.

There is also a lot of buzz around Brothers of Italy’s post-fascist roots, including over its logo – the same tricolour flame of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), a party founded in 1946 by supporters and former members of dictator Benito Mussolini which rebranded in the 1990s into a nationalist conservative group.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, attends a rally in Duomo square ahead of the Sept. 25 snap election, in Milan, Italy
Meloni attends a rally in Milan ahead of the September 25 snap election [Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters]

How does the voting system work?

Italians will vote for a slimmed-down parliament: 400 seats in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and 200 in the Senate of the Republic. Candidates can compete in parties or coalitions and voters need to give one vote each for the Chamber and the Senate.

In the current electoral system, 37 percent of the seats will be allocated based on the first-past-the-post-principle, meaning that whoever gets more votes wins the seat.

The rest are allocated by proportional representation. What is the winning strategy then?

“Considering the electoral system, to have a wide coalition is fundamental, and by having a wider coalition the centre right is well facilitated [to win] compared to the fragmented left,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, founding partner of polling firm YouTrend.

Leftish and centre-right parties have failed to form an alliance, despite several attempts by the leading left-wing Democratic Party (PD).

The latest polling gave more than 60 percent of seats to Meloni’s bloc. If confirmed, “it would be the wider majority ever held by a right-wing coalition in Italy’s recent history”, Pregliasco added.

Who is promising what?

The right-wing coalition has pledged loyalty to the EU and NATO, to impose harsher measures to prevent “illegal immigration” and to renegotiate some aspects of the 200 billion euros Italy is set to receive as part of the EU recovery fund – a proposal that has raised eyebrows in Brussels. It stresses lower taxes for families, firms and self-employed.

They promise to replace the “citizens’ income” – a poverty relief scheme which was the signature policy of the Five Star Movement – with more “effective measures”.

During the electoral campaign, Meloni has pushed it further, saying she wants to abolish it outright, arguing that rather than encouraging recipients to find jobs, it discouraged them.

The coalition also wants a constitutional reform which would introduce the direct election of the president who is currently voted by the parliament. This would bring Italy’s parliamentary democracy closer to a presidential system.

The political manifesto of the left-wing PD led by Enrico Letta, now polling at 22 percent, focuses on increasing welfare benefits and civil rights with special attention to the youth and the environment.

It promises to introduce a minimum wage to reduce temporary contracts, more investments in social housing and a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 16.

It wants to make it easier for migrants’ children to get Italian citizenship and to pass a law toughening penalties for discrimination against the LGBTQ community – two key issues of the left.

It also promises to offer gay married couples the same parental rights as heterosexual marriages.

The Five Star Movement witnessed a defection of some of its key members after its leader Giuseppe Conte refused to endorse the delivery of weapons to Ukraine.

Today the party’s policies are similar to those of the left, such as guaranteeing a minimum wage and helping immigrants’ children to get citizenship.

The party, which had taken Italy by storm during the 2018 elections catching a third of the vote, is polling at 13 percent.

The “third pole”, composed of former Economy Minister Carlo Calenda’s Azione and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Italy Viva, currently polls at 5.5 percent.

The group pledged to pursue Draghi’s government and to lift a ban on nuclear power. It has extensively campaigned for the construction of a regasification terminal.

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at political party symbols on the wall as Italy will hold a snap election on September 25, in Rome, Italy,
A man looks at political party symbols on the wall in Rome [File: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

How does the future look like?

Polls are leaving little space for doubt on the results with the right-wing coalition already dominating the competition.

Questions loom over how will be the relationship between Meloni and her ally Salvini. Throughout the campaign, the coalition has shown some cracks.

Meloni disagreed on approving a 30 billion euros ($30bn) plan to tackle the energy crisis that would further increase Italian debt – a move that Salvini keeps pushing for.

But on the biggest issue that concerns Italy’s relations with Russia, the leader of the Brothers of Italy has said she intends to keep sanctioning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, while Salvini has called for their removal saying they are not effective.

Meanwhile, 42 percent of Italians say they are either undecided on who to vote for or they will abstain from voting, a sign observers say shows how politics has drifted away from people.

Former Italian prime minister and leader of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi (R) reacts at the end of a meeting with League leader Matteo Salvini (L) and Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni i
Berlusconi (R) reacts at the end of a meeting with Salvini (L) and Meloni (C) in Rome [File: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters]

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US envoy ‘will not be admitted’ to Nicaragua, vice president says | Elections News

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo says decision due to new US ambassador’s ‘interfering’ attitude.

Nicaragua will not allow the new United States ambassador to enter the country due to his “interfering” attitude, Vice President Rosario Murillo has reiterated, amid months of escalating tensions between the two nations.

The US envoy, Hugo Rodriguez, “will not under any circumstances be admitted into our Nicaragua”, said Murillo, who is also the wife of President Daniel Ortega.

“Let that be clear to the imperialists,” she said on Friday, reading a statement from the foreign office on state media, as reported by the AFP news agency.

The US Senate confirmed Rodriguez’s nomination to the ambassador post on Thursday, despite Nicaragua saying in July that it would reject it.

The diplomatic fight comes as the Biden administration has imposed a slew of sanctions, including US visa restrictions, on Nicaraguan state officials and their relatives over a crackdown on opposition politicians and human rights activists in the Central American nation.

Ortega has overseen a sweeping arrest campaign that targeted opposition leaders and presidential hopefuls in the lead-up to a November 2021 vote that saw the longtime leader re-elected to a fourth consecutive term as president.

But Washington and its allies, including the European Union, slammed the vote as a “farce”. Human rights organisations also denounced the crackdown, which has seen dozens of people arrested and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

Other opposition figures have fled the country, often to neighbouring Costa Rica.

Ortega has said his government’s actions are lawful, accusing the opposition figures of not being real candidates, but rather “criminals” and “terrorists” who posed a danger to the country.

In July, Nicaragua withdrew its approval of Rodriguez’s ambassador posting in the country after Rodriguez criticised the Ortega government.

Rodriguez, a former senior adviser in the US Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a US Senate hearing that he would “support using all economic and diplomatic tools to bring about a change in direction in Nicaragua”.

He also described Nicaragua as a “pariah state in the region” and branded Ortega’s government a “dictatorship”.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada responded that the government, “in use of its powers and in exercise of its national sovereignty, immediately withdraws the approval granted to the candidate Hugo Rodriguez”.

On Friday, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Arturo McFields, slammed the government’s decision to deny entry to Rodriguez, saying the US-Nicaraguan relationship had reached “one of its worst crises” in over a decade.

McFields resigned from his post in March, accusing Ortega’s administration of rights abuses.

Earlier this week, the Reuters news agency reported that Nicaragua had asked the European Union’s ambassador to leave the country, according to three diplomatic sources.

European Union Ambassador Bettina Muscheidt was summoned to the foreign ministry, where she was declared “non grata” and notified that she should leave Nicaragua, one of the diplomatic sources said.



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American consumers spent more in August, as prices rose | Inflation News

Consumers spent a bit more in August than the previous month, a sign the economy is holding up even as inflation lifts prices for food, rent, and other essentials.

Americans boosted their spending at stores and for services, such as haircuts, by 0.4 percent in August, after it fell 0.2 percent in July, the Department of Commerce said Friday. Yet much of that increase reflected higher prices, with an inflation gauge closely monitored by the Federal Reserve rising 0.3 percent in August, the government’s report showed.

The figures suggested that the economy is showing some resilience despite sharply rising interest rates, violent swings in the stock market, and high inflation.

Still, there were signs that rising prices are weighing on shoppers. Consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, is growing at a weaker pace. It increased at an annual rate of 2 percent in the April-June quarter. Yet July and August data indicate that spending growth is on track to slow to an annual rate of just 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter, economists said.

The economy is expected to grow in the third quarter, after shrinking in the first six months of this year. But many economists lowered their forecasts after the spending report and now expect growth will be just 1 percent or so at an annual rate.

Americans are also saving less in order to keep up with higher prices. The US saving rate was just 3.5 percent in August, far below pre-pandemic levels of about 8 percent, Friday’s report said.

There have been other signs of consumer weakness recently, with used car seller Carmax reporting sharply lower sales in the three months ending in August. The company attributed the decline to “affordability challenges” for consumers amid high inflation and rising interest rates.

Rising prices

Compared with a year ago, prices jumped 6.2 percent, down from a 6.4 percent annual gain in July but not far from June’s four-decade high of 7 percent. The figure is lower than the more widely-known consumer price index, released earlier this month, which reported an 8.3 percent price gain in August from a year earlier.

The two indexes differ for several reasons. For example, the consumer price index puts much greater weight on rents and housing costs, which have been rising steadily, than the measure released Friday, known as the price index for personal consumption expenditures.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices rose 0.6 percent, much faster than July’s flat reading. They increased 4.9 percent from a year earlier, up from July’s figure of 4.6 percent.

Those figures were higher than expected, and may make the Federal Reserve more likely to lift its benchmark interest rate by another hefty 0.75 percentage point at its next meeting in November. If so, that would be the fourth such rise in a row.

The inflation figures in Friday’s report echoed those released earlier this month, with core prices rising more quickly than headline inflation. Falling petrol prices have reduced overall inflation, while stubbornly high costs for housing, cars, and services such as healthcare and haircuts have pushed core prices higher.

Adjusted for inflation, consumer spending ticked up 0.1 percent last month, after falling slightly in July.

While they are spending more, Americans are saving less in order to keep up with higher prices [File: Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Friday’s report also showed that personal income rose 0.3 percent in August for the second month in a row. Adjusted for price increases, disposable income — what is leftover after taxes — ticked up 0.1 percent, after a hefty 0.5 percent gain in July.

But over a longer timeframe, incomes are trailing inflation. In the April-June quarter, inflation-adjusted disposable income fell 1.5 percent at an annual rate.

Fed action

The Federal Reserve is seeking to wrestle inflation under control with its most rapid series of interest rate rises in four decades. It has pushed its benchmark short-term rate to a range of 3 percent to 3.25 percent, the highest since early 2008, up from nearly zero in March.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and other officials have repeatedly underscored the Fed’s determination to bring prices down, even if their rate increases resulted in layoffs and a higher unemployment rate.

The Fed intended its interest rate increases to slow borrowing and spending, which should in turn reduce inflation pressures in the economy.

Inflation has spiked globally, contributing to economic and financial turmoil in the United Kingdom, Europe, and a slew of developing countries, from Turkey to Argentina.

Also Friday, the 19 countries that use the euro currency reported that inflation spiked 10 percent from a year earlier, as prices for natural gas and electricity soared. European countries are struggling with an energy crunch in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Russia has reduced its supplies of natural gas to the European Union.

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Burkina Faso’s military leader Damiba deposed, army captain says | Politics News

BREAKING,

Burkina Faso’s military government dissolved and constitution suspended, army Captain Ibrahim Traore says.

Burkina Faso army Captain Ibrahim Traore has deposed military leader Paul-Henri Damiba and dissolved the government and suspended the constitution and transitional charter, he said in a statement read on national television.

Traore said on Friday evening that a group of officers had decided to remove Damiba due to his inability to deal with a worsening armed uprising in the country. He announced that borders were closed indefinitely and that all political and civil society activities were suspended.

It is the second takeover in eight months for the West African state. Damiba took power in a coup in January that overthrew former President Roch Kabore, also due in part to frustration over the worsening insecurity.

The Burkina Faso government had said earlier on Friday that an “internal crisis” within the army was behind troop deployments in key areas of the capital, adding that negotiations were underway after shots rang out before dawn.

Government spokesman Lionel Bilgo said talks were ongoing “to try to reach a settlement without trouble”.

The state television was cut for several hours, broadcasting just a blank screen with the message “no video signal”.

In Brussels, the EU voiced “concern” at the events unfolding in the Burkina capital.

“A military movement was observed from 04:30 this morning. The situation still remains particularly confused,” spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said.

Damiba had pledged to restore civilian rule within two years and to defeat armed factions stoking unrest in the country.

Attacks have increased since mid-March, despite the junta’s vow to make security its top priority.

More to follow.

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