Election of hardline politicians as new Italian parliament speakers stirs controversy

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni casts her ballot in the Italian lower Chamber on the opening session of the new parliament, 13 October 2022
Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni casts her ballot in the Italian lower Chamber on the opening session of the new parliament, 13 October 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Lawmakers have elected new speakers for its parliament's two houses, and both appointments have caused a stir.

On Thursday, Ignazio La Russa became the speaker of the Senate.

La Russa is considered to have been one of the key players behind the victory of Giorgia Meloni's party, and he will now be the second-highest official in the government, seen as a highly controversial choice. 

A video of La Russa in his Milan home, posted in 2018 on the Corriere della Sera website, showed he collected Mussolini memorabilia. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, he suggested replacing handshakes with the fascist Roman salute.

Mussolini ruled Italy for more than two decades, allying it with Nazi Germany and enacting anti-Semitic laws that ultimately led to the death of nearly 6,000 Italian Jews in camps.

La Russa's election also exposed the sharp tensions within the right-wing coalition, as the majority of the centre-right Forza Italia senators did not vote for him.

The Brothers of Italy party co-founder, however, promised to serve all political forces in the chamber.

On Friday, Lorenzo Fontana, conservative and anti-immigrant Lega party's deputy secretary, was elected president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. 

Some senators protested the move by holding up a banner during the vote that read "No to a homophobic and pro-Putin president”.

Fontana has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling him in 2018 "a shining light even for us in the West". and condemned the sanctions against Moscow. In 2016, he supported the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn.

"We need to get back a bit of pride in who we are," Fontana told the lower house on Friday.

The upper and lower houses were noticeably less crowded during their first sessions after the recent general election.

In an effort to reduce costs, the previous parliament voted to cut the number of lawmakers, meaning there will be just 400 deputies in the lower chamber against a previous 630 and only 200 elected senators compared with 315 before.

Among the reduced ranks of senators was former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was making his return to the upper house at the age of 86, nine years after he was expelled from elected office following a conviction for tax fraud.

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Additional sources • AP