By Angelo Amante and Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) -A pro-Russia, anti-gay politician was elected speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament on Friday, a day after a nationalist lawmaker who collects fascist memorabilia became speaker of the Senate.
The twin votes followed last month’s parliamentary election which was won by a trio of conservative parties – Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League and Forza Italia, which is led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Meloni is expected to be named prime minister before the end of the month but putting together a cabinet is proving much more difficult than expected, with Berlusconi in particular furious over her refusal to satisfy his requests for key cabinet posts.
His pungent opinions of her were revealed by a photographer who took a picture of a note in his handwriting that he briefly held while in parliament on Thursday. The photo has since gone viral on social media.
“Giorgia Meloni, her behaviour 1) overbearing, 2) domineering, 3) arrogant, 4) offensive … No willingness to change, she is someone you can’t get along with,” the note said.
Meloni had looked to moderate her image during the election campaign, playing down her previous euroscepticism and insisting that her party was a mainstream conservative group.
However, the election of speakers for the two chambers of parliament highlighted the strong, hard-right core that runs through her coalition.
The choice of Brothers of Italy veteran Ignazio La Russa, who in 2018 showed off his keepsakes of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, was expected.
The decision to put forward League lawmaker Lorenzo Fontana as speaker for the lower house was a surprise. He is known for his socially conservative, eurosceptic positions and he has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him in 2018 “a shining light even for us in the West”.
“We need to get back a bit of pride in who we are,” Fontana told the lower house on Friday.
Francesco Galietti, founder of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar, said Fontana’s elevation risked undermining Meloni’s pledge that her government would be pro-Western and would back Ukraine in its war against Russia.
“For all her efforts to position herself as a staunch Atlanticist, Meloni now has a Moscow friend as speaker of the house on her watch. That’s bad, and Meloni knows it,” he said.
Fontana is a well-known and controversial figure in Italy. He once said gay marriage and mass immigration threatened to wipe out Italy’s traditions and he is fervently anti-abortion.
“No to a homophobic, pro-Putin speaker,” read a banner held up in the lower chamber by opposition lawmakers before parliamentary ushers pulled it down.
Fontana has also called for the repeal of a 1993 anti-fascist and anti-racist law that, among other things, makes it a crime to propagate “ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority or hatred”.
He repeatedly called for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed against Russia following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
In 2018 he said: “I have been favourably impressed by so many of Putin’s statements and by the great Christian religious awakening seen in his country.”
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Crispian Balmer, editing by Gavin Jones and Gareth Jones)