Italy Braces for Pivotal Election

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Italy’s high-stakes vote, Iran’s escalating unrest, and the end of the Khmer Rouge trials.  

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Italy Braces for High-Stakes Election

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Italy’s high-stakes vote, Iran’s escalating unrest, and the end of the Khmer Rouge trials 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Italy Braces for High-Stakes Election

Italians will head to the polls on Sunday in a pivotal vote that could install the country’s most far-right government since World War II.

As a populist tide overtakes Italy, far-right Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party is currently leading in polls; it is part of a right-wing coalition with Matteo Salvini’s the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Its main challenger is the center-left Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party, which has been falling behind it in polls.

Meloni, who was first profiled by FP in July 2019, is the favorite to become Italy’s first female prime minister—a potential outcome that has rattled other European leaders, given her past Euroskepticism. With a motto of “God, family, fatherland,” she is also known for her ultra-conservative stances on immigration, abortion, and LGBTQ rights.

“The feature that characterizes her, and the feature that is mirroring the sentiment of the Italian public opinion, is her insistence on victimhood,” said Carlo Bastasin, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “This is a very powerful emotional argument which goes down well for many populist politicians.”

As the election nears, Meloni has been careful to tone down her hard-right image, drawing clear lines between herself and other far-right European leaders, while also backing NATO and pledging her support for Ukraine. But even with these efforts, the Brothers of Italy party still hasn’t cast away its fascist origins, as Michele Barbero reported in Foreign Policy.

Meloni is “playing on two levels,” said Bastasin. “She speaks to her constituents, [who] want her to be strongly against the establishment, anti-elite and very, very conservative, sometimes reminiscent of the old neofascist arguments. But on the other hand, she is very reassuring when speaking to the international community or to the establishment itself in Italy.” 

Still, he cautioned that there is a high level of uncertainty about the election’s outcome—and her party’s post-election influence will ultimately hinge on how the votes shake out. 

“We can confidently assume that Meloni’s party will be the first party, but we cannot completely take for granted that her allies … will perform well,” said Bastasin. “In that case, we don’t know if the coalition that she will try to form will have really the stability or even the necessary number of seats to confidently govern the country.”

What We’re Following Today

Iran’s escalating unrest. At least 12 people, including five security forces, have been killed as Iran clamps down on its worst protests in years. Demonstrations have gripped the country after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old woman, died last Friday while in police custody for allegedly violating Iran’s hijab law. Amini’s father has accused the government of a cover-up.

As protests escalated, Iranian authorities reduced internet availability and cut access to WhatsApp and other platforms. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned that “acts of chaos are unacceptable.”

Khmer Rouge trials. After 16 years, a special tribunal tasked with investigating and prosecuting Khmer Rouge officials for atrocities—which killed around 1.7 million people in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979—has concluded. The court spent $337 million and ultimately convicted three men. 

North Korea refutes U.S. intelligence. North Korea has warned the United States to “stop making reckless remarks” and “keep its mouth shut” in response to a recently declassified U.S. intelligence report that said the country was selling weapons to Russia. 

“We have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them,” a senior North Korean official said. 

World Bank climate controversy. After refusing to say whether he believed humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are fueling climate change—which is the scientific consensus—World Bank President David Malpass has now backtracked under mounting global pressure, claiming that he is “not a denier.” 

His original hedging had ignited calls for his resignation and cast a harsh spotlight on the World Bank’s climate track record. Malpass was appointed under the Trump administration and has previously been criticized by climate groups.

‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to Be Dead’ by Tristan McConnell

Kale may be nutritious, but it’s not popular with fetuses, who appear to be more likely to pout in the womb after their mothers eat the leafy green, according to a new study published in Psychological Science. When carrots were eaten, however, they were more likely to appear with a smile.

Researchers said the findings could offer important insights into pregnant women’s diets. “What [we] know from other research is actually that if the mother has a varied diet, like vegetables and fruits etc, babies are much less fussy eaters,” she said,” Nadja Reissland, a co-author of the research, told the Guardian

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