Liberals and socialists join forces in Europe 2:04 (CNN) – Italians vote this Sunday in national elections. The far-right Brothers of Italy party — led by Giorgia Meloni — looks set to make big gains after the collapse of two governments since the last election. His ultra-conservative party, whose origins lie in post-war fascism, currently controls just two of Italy’s 20 regions, having won just 4.5% of the vote in the 2018 election. But since the collapse of the Former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition earlier this year, which triggered snap elections, the Brothers of Italy have only increased in popularity, with recent polls suggesting almost a quarter of the electorate back it. By noon, voter turnout in Italy was slightly lower than in the previous 2018 election, according to data released Sunday by the Italian Ministry of the Interior. Polls remain open until 11 pm local (5 pm Miami time). The 2018 vote resulted in a hung parliament. Meloni, a 45-year-old Roman mother who has campaigned under the banner “God, Country and Family,” leads a party whose agenda is rooted in Euroscepticism, anti-immigration policies and which has also proposed weakening LGBTQ and abortion rights. His meteoric rise in popularity is a reflection of Italy’s longstanding rejection of mainstream politics, seen most recently with the country’s support for anti-establishment parties such as the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini’s League. Party supporters attend a campaign rally for Giorgia Meloni in Ancona, central Italy, on August 23, 2022. Meloni’s partners in Italy’s centre-right political alliance, Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi of Forza Italia, are in partly responsible for its popularity. In 2008, as her prime minister, Berlusconi appointed her sports minister, making her the youngest minister to hold that post. And in the 2018 election, Meloni was Salvini’s junior partner in the centre-right alliance. But this time, she is in charge and has hinted that, if she is elected, she may not give Salvini a ministerial portfolio, stripping him of power to potentially topple his government. Trailing in recent polls is the center-left coalition, led by the left-wing Democratic Party and the center + Europe parties. The parties formed an alliance with another centrist party, Azione, following Draghi’s resignation to counter a shift to the right, but it broke up shortly after its formation, opening the door even further for Meloni. The electoral process has been dominated by hot-button issues, including Italy’s cost-of-living crisis, a 209 billion euro package from the European Covid-19 recovery fund and the country’s support for Ukraine. Meloni differs from Berlusconi and Salvini on a number of issues, including Ukraine, and has no connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin, unlike his associates, who have said they would like to review sanctions against Russia due to their impact on the economy. Italian. Instead, Meloni has been adamant in her support of Ukraine’s defense. The Democratic Party, led by former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, strongly opposes Putin and his war in Ukraine, openly supports LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage — which became legal in 2016 — and legislation to combat homophobia. If her party wins, Meloni could also become Italy’s first female prime minister. However, her politics does not mean that she is necessarily interested in promoting women’s rights. Emiliana De Blasio, a diversity and inclusion advisor at LUISS University in Rome, told CNN that Meloni’s politics are more important than her gender, but that she has not shown herself to be a feminist first. “We need to reflect on the fact that Giorgia Meloni is not raising any issues about women’s rights and empowerment in general,” she said. The Italian elections come as far-right parties in other European countries have had recent gains. In France, despite the fact that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron in April, her supporters were heartened by her participation in the popular vote, which shifted France’s political center drastically. to the right. And in Sweden, the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party with neo-Nazi roots, are likely to play a major role in the new government after winning the second-largest share of seats in the general election earlier this month. If Meloni’s party wins, it could very well confirm that a resurgent populist wave that has been sweeping Europe is here to stay. CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau and Luke McGee contributed to this report.