His ultra-conservative party, whose origins date back to post-war fascism, currently controls just two of Italy’s 20 regions, winning just 4.5% of the vote in the 2018 elections.
But since the collapse of former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition earlier this year – which triggered a snap election – the Brothers of Italy have only grown in popularity, with a recent poll suggesting around a quarter of the electorate supports it.
At midday, voter turnout in Italy was slightly lower than in the previous election in 2018, according to data released by the Italian Interior Ministry on Sunday.
Polling stations remain open until 11 p.m. local time (5 p.m. local time). The 2018 vote resulted in a hung parliament.
Meloni, a 45-year-old mother from Rome who campaigned under the slogan “God, Country and Family”, leads a party whose agenda is rooted in euroscepticism, anti-immigration policies, and which has also proposed d ‘weakening LGBTQ and abortion rights.
His astronomical rise in popularity is a reflection of Italy’s longstanding rejection of mainstream politics, seen more recently with the country’s backing of anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League.
Meloni’s partners in Italy’s center-right political alliance, Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia, are partly responsible for his popularity.
In 2008, as prime minister, Berlusconi appointed her sports minister, making her the youngest minister to hold the post.
And in the 2018 elections, Meloni was Salvini’s junior partner in the centre-right alliance. But this time she is in charge and has hinted that, if elected, she could not give Salvini a ministerial portfolio – which would strip him of the power to potentially bring down his government.
The centre-left coalition, led by the left-wing Democratic Party and the centrist + Europe parties, is lagging in recent polls. The parties formed an alliance with another centrist party, Azione, following Draghi’s resignation to counter a rightward shift, but it fell apart soon after its formation, opening the door further for Meloni.
Election preparations have been dominated by burning issues including Italy’s cost of living crisis, a €209 billion package from the European Covid-19 recovery fund and the country’s support for Ukraine.
Meloni differs from Berlusconi and Salvini on a number of issues, including Ukraine, and has no ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike his partners, who have said they would like to review sanctions against Russia in because of their impact on the Italian economy. Meloni has instead been unwavering in his support for Ukraine’s defense.
The Democratic Party, led by former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, strongly opposes Putin and his war in Ukraine, openly supports LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage – which was legalized in 2016 – and legislation to fight homophobia.
If her party wins, Meloni could also become Italy’s first female prime minister. However, her politics do not mean that she is necessarily interested in advancing women’s rights.
Emiliana De Blasio, a diversity and inclusion advisor at LUISS University of Rome, told CNN that Meloni’s politics are more important than her gender, but she hasn’t proven herself to be d first a feminist.
“We have to reflect on the fact that Giorgia Meloni does not raise questions about women’s rights and empowerment in general at all,” she said.
The Italian elections come as other far-right parties in other European countries have scored recent gains.
If Meloni’s party wins, it could very well confirm that a resurgent populist wave that has swept across Europe is here to stay.
CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau and Luke McGee contributed to this report.