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Giorgia Meloni could become Italy’s first female prime minister. Here’s what to know.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Fratelli d'Italia party, takes a picture with supporters at a campaign rally in Caserta, Italy, on Sept. 18. (Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg)

ROME — If all goes as expected in Italy’s general election on Sunday, Giorgia Meloni stands to become the next prime minister.

She would be Italy’s first female political leader. She would also give a boost to the far right in Western Europe, coming on the heels of a far-right win in Sweden, and earning a level of power that’s been out of reach for her counterparts in Germany and France.

By any accounting, Meloni’s rise is astonishing. Until recently, her Fratelli d’Italia party lay stuck on Italy’s political fringes. The 45-year-old was overlooked for years by the male-dominated political class. She’s an unmarried mother with a heavy Roman accent, always casual and blunt, gesturing with hands to the sky.

Giorgia Meloni’s astonishing rise is changing both the politics and political tone of her country

What’s important to know about her politics?

There has been much debate about where Meloni belongs on the political spectrum: Right? Far right? Her opponents call her party “post-fascist.”

She describes herself and Fratelli d’Italia — Brothers of Italy, a name that echoes lyrics in the national anthem — as conservative. “There’s no doubt that our values are conservative ones,” she told The Washington Post. “The issue of individual freedom, private enterprise in economy, educational freedom, the centrality of family and its role in our society, the protection of borders from unchecked immigration, the defense of the Italian national identity — these are the matters that we preoccupy ourselves with.”

At the same time, she positions herself against “a leftist ideology.” She has said “everything we stand for” — including Christian values and traditional gender norms — “is under attack.” She takes shots at “cancel culture” and the “LGBT lobby.” She highlights anecdotes about immigrant crime.

Her opponents argue that her views can veer into the extreme. They cite past remarks — such as a speech from 2017 — in which Meloni said mass-scale illegal immigration to Italy was “planned and deliberate,” carried out by unnamed but powerful forces to import low-wage labor and drive out Italians. “It’s called ethnic substitution,” Meloni said at the time, echoing the far-right “great replacement” theory.

Giorgia Meloni's interview with The Washington Post

On other issues, Meloni diverges from nationalist peers in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. She’s a strong supporter of NATO. And she shows no affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What would a Prime Minister Meloni mean for Italy — and Europe?

The Italian left has sounded an alarm: Meloni could push Italy into the European Union’s illiberal bloc, alongside Hungary and Poland, fighting diversity and agitating against Brussels. While most Italian leaders have sought tighter integration among the 27 E.U. nations, Meloni wants the opposite: More autonomy. That could create tensions — in foreign policy, energy, or Russia policy — in moments when the union wants its members to stick together.

Meloni has said Italy wouldn’t take some authoritarian turn. She has pledged not to disrupt the country’s stability, its place in the European Union or Atlantic alliances.

In her interview with The Post, she emphasized economic concerns. She spoke of the rising cost of energy and raw materials, uncertainty about whether the pandemic might come roaring back, and Italy’s towering public debt — which leaves the country perpetually several missteps from crisis.

What are her chances of becoming prime minister?

Very high.

Meloni’s party is the most popular in the country, favored by roughly one-quarter of voters. It has a coalition agreement with other parties on the right, giving it overwhelming odds to prevail against a fractured and reeling left.

The conservative bloc has said that the premier job should go to the leader of the party with the most votes.

The catch now for Meloni is that to enter government, she’ll need the support of Matteo Salvini, the far-right politician she has eclipsed, and whose party is part of the coalition. It would be a great surprise if Salvini tried to block Meloni’s path, but in theory he could suggest that the party leaders of the various coalition members step back, and put forward a more neutral figure as a potential prime minister.

More likely is that Meloni becomes prime minister and then faces a decision about what position to give Salvini. Because their parties draw from a similar pool of voters, they’re natural rivals.

It could be weeks before the parties work out who should get the job. And then the president, Sergio Mattarella, has final say on who gets the mandate.