Giorgia Meloni, set to be sworn in as prime minister tomorrow, says ‘Italy will never be the weak link of the West’

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CNN

Populist firebrand Giorgia Meloni has been named as Italy’s first female prime minister, becoming the country’s most far-right leader since Benito Mussolini.

She received the mandate to form a government from Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella on Friday afternoon after two days of official consultations, and is set to be sworn in at 10 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET) on Saturday.

Last month’s general election resulted in an alliance of far-right and center-right parties, led by her ultraconservative Brothers of Italy, winning enough seats in Italy’s parliament to form a government.

Meloni will now bring together a cabinet that is expected to include the nationalist former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and may see a return to government for controversial former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi.

The latter made headlines earlier this week when audio released by Italian news agency LaPresse revealed the 86-year-old speaking about his “reestablished” relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi’s office confirmed to CNN on Thursday that the clips were authentic – having apparently been secretly recorded during a meeting of his Forza Italia party in the parliamentary chamber on Tuesday.

In the audio, the billionaire and media magnate says he has “reestablished relations with President Putin” and goes on to boast that the Russian leader called him “the first of his five true friends.”

His comments raised eyebrows, as diplomatic relations between Russia and Western leaders remain strained amid the Kremlin’s grueling military assault on Ukraine.

Berlusconi has been the subject of multiple corruption and bribery trials during his tumultuous political career.

Meloni has been a strong supporter of Ukraine as it battles Moscow’s invasion. Amid backlash for her coalition over Berlusconi’s leaked comments, she restated her foreign policy line.

“With us governing, Italy will never be the weak link of the West. The nation of spaghetti and mandolini that is so dear to many of our detractors will relaunch its credibility and defend its interests,” Meloni said late Wednesday on her Instagram account.

Speaking earlier Friday after a meeting with Mattarella and her coalition partners, Meloni said it was necessary to form the new government “as soon as possible.”

“We are ready to govern Italy,” Meloni’s official Facebook page stated. “We will be able to face the urgencies and challenges of our time with awareness and competence.”

Meloni entered Italy’s crowded political scene in 2006 and in 2012 co-founded the Brothers of Italy, a party whose agenda is rooted in Euroskepticism and anti-immigration policies.

The group’s popularity soared ahead of September’s election, as Italian voters once again rejected mainstream politics and opted for a fringe figure.

She first made her name as vice-president of the National Alliance, an unapologetically neo-fascist group formed by supporters of Benito Mussolini. Meloni herself openly admired the dictator as a youth, but later distanced herself from his brand of fascism – despite keeping the tricolor flame symbolizing the eternal fire on his tomb in the logo for the Brothers of Italy.

She has pursued a staunchly Conservative agenda throughout her time in politics, frequently questioning LGBT rights, abortion rights and immigration policies.

CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting.