Ignazio La Russa ITALY SPEAKER
Italian far-right party Fratelli d'Italia's (Brothers of Italy) Ignazio La Russa addresses the Italian Senate after he was elected its new President, in Rome on October 13, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Rome: Italy’s new rightist coalition got off to an inauspicious start on Thursday when it split over the election of the Senate speaker, who clinched the post despite a revolt by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.

The alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy group has been struggling to agree over Cabinet posts ever since it easily won the Sept. 25 election, and it failed its first public test of unity in the Senate vote.

Ignazio La Russa, from Brothers of Italy, was elected speaker with 116 votes in the 200-seat upper chamber thanks to opposition senators who supported him in the secret ballot, making up for the defections by Forza Italia.

As speaker, La Russa now has the role of guiding legislation through parliament’s upper house, but is also expected to wield power behind the scenes.

Meloni hailed him as a “patriot, a servant of the state” who for her party “is an irreplaceable point of reference, a friend, a brother, an example for generations of activists and leaders”.

La Russa has been a part of the nationalist Italian right since the end of the 1960s, when his long hair and beard prompted writer Umberto Eco to compare him to Rasputin.

But politics is also in his blood. His landowner father, Antonino La Russa, was a local official in Sicily for the National Fascist Party of dictator Benito Mussolini.

And after World War II, he was elected MP and then senator for its successor organisation, the Italian Social Movement (MSI), set up by Mussolini’s followers.

Amid accusations and recriminations on the first day of the new parliament it was not immediately clear which opposition politicians had backed La Russa, a hard-right veteran who began his career in the post-fascist Italian Social Movement.

The right-wing bloc, which includes Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League, have promised to bring political stability to the country after years of short-lived governments.

“I will try with all my efforts to be the speaker for everybody,” La Russa told the senators, as opposition chiefs denied they were responsible for his election.

Political sources say former premier Berlusconi is furious with Meloni, who is widely expected to be named prime minister, for refusing some of his demands for the new ministerial team which is not due to be named before Oct. 20.

The 86-year-old media magnate said his senators had abstained due to their “strong unease over the vetoes imposed in the last few days concerning the formation of the government.” He said he hoped these “vetoes” would be dropped in order to allow “loyal and effective collaboration with the other coalition parties to quickly give the country a new government.” Former businessman Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Action party, denied his senators provided La Russa with the votes he needed.

“I have nothing to do with it,” he told reporters, describing the new speaker as “post-fascist and unvotable.”

The lower house Chamber of Deputies is also electing its speaker on Thursday, with a wider two-thirds majority initially required for the winning candidate. The League’s Riccardo Molinari is considered to be in pole position for the post.