A rising star of Italy’s left-wing coalition says it is working to restore confidence as it seeks to tap the 40% of voters who are undecided about who to back in Sunday’s general election, and vowed to “fight until the last day” to resist. What could be Italy’s first right-wing government since World War II.

Eli Schlein, a former MEP, came into the limelight in early 2020 after his small party, Coraggiosa (Courageous), played a key role in stopping the far-right from seizing power in the traditionally left-wing Emilia-Romagna region.

Schlein, 37, was then appointed vice-president of the region and is running as an independent candidate on the Democratic Party’s Progressive Italy list in this election.

Schlein, an Italian-American, is often compared in Italy to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is also vocal on social justice issues.

A coalition led by the Brothers of Italy, a descendant of neofascism and including the far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is predicted to win the election comfortably. A divided left that has lost touch with its supporters is partly to blame for the success of right-wing groups.

Schlein was a member of the Democratic Party (PD) until 2015, but left out of frustration with the direction the party was taking under its then leader Matteo Renzi. The PD is now led by Enrico Letta.

“We are trying to go out and talk to the 40% undecided voters, as most of them are still undecided about who and who they will vote for on September 25,” he said. “We have to try to get back the trust. It’s hard because I’m part of a generation that had a complicated relationship with politics because we didn’t feel represented.”

Schlein said he “could no longer tolerate PD” after Renzi enforced his flagship Jobs Act, labor market measures that make it easier for employers to fire people and hire on precarious contracts. “It had a strong impact, especially on young people and women,” she said.

Schlein, who is responsible for equality and environmental initiatives in Emilia Romagna, also criticized Renzi’s policies on the environment and the constitution, which he said had “nothing to do with left-wing policies”.

Leta drafted Schlein to reinvigorate the left’s campaign, heal its divisions and connect with young voters.

Although the PD was only a few points behind the Brothers of Italy in the final pre-election poll, it has struggled to form a coalition strong enough to take the right. Leta has ruled out aligning with the Five Star Movement (M5S), with which the PD shares ideas on policies such as the environment and the minimum wage, after the M5S triggered the fall of Mario Draghi’s government in July.

Meanwhile, two centrist parties, including Renzi’s Italia Viva, refused to join the PD while Letta forged a pact with the smaller, more radical leftist group.

Schlein says the left has spent the past year “reconnecting with the world that we fractured with over the last decade. I’m talking about trade unions, workers, schools, teachers, immigrant activists … and in the end we have the most progressive program presented by the PD.”

He said the international community had reason to be concerned about the prospect of a government consisting of two parties whose ideas are more in line with Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán’s takeover.

“The model of this coalition is Orbán’s liberal democracy,” he said. “We have reason to worry, because their ideas do not provide any solution to the concrete problems of the poorest communities in Italy. They better point the finger at a scapegoat every day, a very old trick that only brought bad things to the European continent. So we will fight till the last day to win this war.”

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