By FRANCES D’EMILIO and GIADA ZAMPANO

ROME (AP) – Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s Eurosceptic party of neo-fascist roots, pushing the country towards what is likely to be its first far-right government since WWII, based on partial results of Monday’s parliamentary elections.

In her winning speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni took a moderate tone after forecasts based on votes counted in around two-thirds of the polling stations showed that her Brothers of Italy party had overtaken other contenders on Sunday’s vote.

“If we are called to rule this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians, and we will do it to unite the people of (this country),” Meloni said at her party’s headquarters in Rome. .

“Italy chose us,” she said. “We won’t betray (the country) like we never did.”

It may take weeks to form a ruling coalition with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies. If Meloni, 45, succeeds, she will be the first woman to become the country’s prime minister.

The mandate to try to form a government is issued by the President of Italy after consultations with party leaders.

Meanwhile, the former head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, continues to act as caretaker.

There may be differences between potential Meloni coalition partners.

It solidly supported the supply of weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian invasion. In contrast, the leader of the right-wing League, Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressed concern that Western sanctions could end up harming Italy’s economic interests more than punishing Russia.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another longtime admirer of Putin, said his inclusion in the center-right bloc coalition would provide Italy with a strong anchor in the European Union and one of its most credible members.

While Italian households and businesses face staggeringly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni opposes Salvini’s pressure to inflate already indebted Italy by tens of billions of euros in energy aid.

What government can receive the third largest economy in the euro area has been closely watched in Europe given Meloni’s criticism of the “Brussels bureaucrats” and its links with other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended the suspension of billions of euros in funding for Hungary amid concerns over democratic deviation and possible mismanagement of EU money.

As opinion polls in the run-up to the vote indicated that she would be on the way to victory, Meloni began to moderate her message on “God, Homeland and Family”, apparently trying to reassure the European Union and other international partners concerned about Euro-skepticism.

“It’s time to be responsible,” said Meloni, speaking live on TV and describing the situation in Italy and the European Union is “particularly complex”.

She promised more detailed comments later on Monday. In her campaign, she criticized European Union officials as overly bureaucratic and swearing to protect Italian national interests if they clash with EU policy.

Predictions based on the votes counted at nearly two-thirds of the polling stations on Sunday’s vote indicated that Meloni’s Brothers of Italy would win around 25.7% of the vote.

Compared to around 19.3% of its closest competitor, the center-left Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Enrico Letty. The Salvini League is projected to win 8.6% of the vote, roughly half of what it won in the last election in 2018. It looks like Berlusconi’s Forza Italia game won 8%.

Meloni’s meteoric rise in the European Union’s third-largest economy comes at a critical juncture as much of the continent is struggling with soaring energy bills, the repercussions of the war in Ukraine, and the West’s determination to unite against Russian aggression. In the last elections in 2018, Meloni’s party won 4.4%.

Euro-skeptical fellow politicians were among the first to celebrate. French politician Marine Le Pen’s party also took this result as a “lesson in humility” for the EU.

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right opposition party Vox in Spain, tweeted that “millions of Europeans place their hopes in Italy”. Meloni “showed the way to a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can work together for the security and well-being of all.”

According to the Ministry of the Interior, almost 64% of those eligible to vote resigned from voting. This is significantly less than the previous low attendance record, 73% in 2018.

Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election – each headed by someone who did not run, and that seemed to alienate many voters, pollsters said.

Meloni’s party arose from the legacy of the neo-fascist party, created shortly after the war by the nostalgic fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The complex Italian electoral law rewards the campaign alliance. Meloni was strengthened by the joining forces of the campaign with Salvini and Berlusconi.

The Democrats went to the vote at a very disadvantage because they failed to secure an equally broad alliance with the left-wing populists of the Five Star Movement, the largest party in the recently ended mandate.

Led by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the 5-star team came in third with around 16% of the vote. If they joined forces in a campaign alliance with the Democrats, their coalition would take roughly the same percentage of Meloni’s alliance

Election Sunday came six months earlier after Draghi’s pandemic unity government, which was very popular with citizens, collapsed in late July after Salvini, Berlusconi and Conte’s parties refused to support a vote of confidence.

Meloni kept her party of Brothers of Italy in opposition by refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or the two previous coalitions led by Conte.

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Associated Press journalist Nicole Winfield made her contribution from Rome.

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