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Italy opposition leader Giorgia Meloni to debate ahead of polls.

Photo : AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and opposition leader Elly Schlein are set to engage in an unprecedented debate on May 23, marking the first-ever face-off between a sitting prime minister and the head of the opposition in Italy. The historic debate will take place on Rai1, the flagship channel of the state broadcaster.

Meloni, representing the Brothers of Italy party, has been in power since October 2022 as part of a coalition with other right-wing parties. In response to her coalition's defeat in the previous year's election, Schlein was elected to lead the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in March 2023.

Both Meloni and Schlein will lead their respective parties in the upcoming European elections on June 8-9. However, neither will take their seats in the European Parliament, with Meloni intending to continue as prime minister and Schlein preferring to remain a member of the Italian chamber of deputies.

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The debate comes amidst recent polls showing Brothers of Italy at 27 percent and the PD at 20 percent in the European vote. The two leaders, despite both being the first women in their positions, represent contrasting backgrounds and ideologies.

Meloni, 46, hails from a modest suburban background and emphasizes Italy's Christian roots, prioritizing the fight against immigration. In contrast, Schlein, 39, comes from an academic family and advocates for healthcare reform in Italy. The negotiation process for organizing the debate was reportedly challenging, reflecting underlying tensions between the government and the opposition over media coverage.

Schlein has accused the right-wing coalition of exerting undue influence over Rai, alleging government interference in the state broadcaster's editorial decisions. Rai journalists have voiced concerns over increased censorship and pressure, with some alleging a shift towards pro-government narratives.

The upcoming debate holds significant political implications as it provides a platform for Meloni and Schlein to articulate their respective visions for Italy's future and address pressing issues facing the country. However, it also underscores broader concerns regarding media freedom and political interference in Italy's public broadcasting sector.

May 11, 2024 5:34 p.m. 3977

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