Italy's far-right leader says she won't be a danger to democracy

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Italy's far-right leader says she won't be a danger to democracy

Italy's far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of the Sept. 25 parliamentary elections, insists that she won't be a danger to democracy if she becomes the prime minister, contending that the Italian political right has unambiguously condemned the legacy of fascism.

She dismissed the possibility of an anti-democratic drift or authoritarian turn, and that the country might exit the group of European nations using the euro currency if her brothers of Italy party comes to power, making her Italy's first far-right premier.

Meloni made comments in a message that was recorded in English, French and Spanish, and distributed Wednesday by her campaign.

Meloni has railed against the European Union bureaucracy for years as infringing on national sovereignty. She blasted Wednesday as a ridiculous narrative that a center-right government - with her campaign allies League leader Matteo Salvini and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi - would jeopardize implementation of reforms needed to receive all of the 200 billion euros earmarked for Italy in the E.U. She referred to media accounts portraying any victory by Brothers of Italy as a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy's departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. She declared that none of this is true.

Her party uses a symbol with a tri-colored flame that had been an icon of an Italian Neo-Fascist party whose members included some open admirers of the rule of Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator in the decades leading up to World War II and during the conflict. Mussolini's regime in 1938 brought about a law targeting Italy's small Jewish population, excluding them from public life, including education and business.

Meloni has been dogged by criticism that she has been ambiguous about denouncing Italy's fascist past.

She summarily dismissed such contentions in Wednesday's message.

Meloni said that the Italian right has handed over the history of Fascistism, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.

Her contention ignored attempts by her allies to minimize Mussolini's legacy. For example, Berlusconi, referring to internal exile for Italian opponents of fascism, once said that the dictator sent them on vacation to Italian islands.

Recent opinion polls have indicated Meloni's support among eligible voters slightly ahead of her main rival in the election, Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, a former premier.

Under Italy's complex electoral rules victors need extensive campaign alliances with other parties to control Parliament. But the Democrats have struggled to match the reach of the center-right campaign alliance, especially when they refused to ally with the populist 5 Stars who triggered a crisis that eventually collapsed Premier Mario Draghi's broad pandemic unity coalition last month.

The dynamics between the center-right and center-left bloc could change. Carlo Cottarelli, a widely-respected economist who has held positions in Italy's central bank and with the International Monetary Fund, will be a candidate for a House seat as a Democratic Party candidate.

The next election is probably the most important thing we have had and likely to be in the years to come, Cottarelli said. The vote is essentially down to progressives vs. conservatives. Italy has to decide its future, he said.