Leader of Italian far-right party "Fratelli d'Italia" (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni (rear center on stage) delivers a speech on Sept 23, 2022 at the Arenile di Bagnoli beachfront location in Naples, southern Italy, during a rally closing her party's campaign for the Sept 25 general election. (ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)
ROME – Millions of Italians will vote on Sunday in an election that is forecast to return the country's most right-wing government since World War II and usher in its first woman prime minister.
Italy's first autumn national election in more than a century was triggered by party infighting that brought down Prime Minister Mario Draghi's broad national unity government in July.
A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party appeared on course for a clear victory when the last opinion polls were published two weeks ago
A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party appeared on course for a clear victory when the last opinion polls were published two weeks ago.
Meloni would be the obvious candidate for prime minister as leader of an alliance also featuring Matteo Salvini's League party and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia.
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That would cap a remarkable rise for Meloni, a 45-year-old from Rome whose party won only 4 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2018.
Voting runs on Sunday from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm (0500-2100 GMT), with exit polls released when balloting ends.
However, the complex calculations required by a hybrid proportional/first-past-the-post electoral law mean it may be many hours before a precise seat count is available.
With a polls blackout in force in the two weeks before the election, there is still scope for a surprise.
There has been speculation that support for the left-leaning 5-Star Movement, the biggest party in 2018, has picked up in recent days.
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A late surge by 5-Star could jeopardize the rightist alliance's chances of winning a majority in the Senate or upper house, complicating the process of forming a government.
Even if there is a clear cut result, the next government is unlikely to take office before late October, with the new parliament not meeting until Oct 13.