Five Star candidate poised to become Rome's new mayor
The first round of Italian local elections on Sunday (5 June) has left prime minister Matteo Renzi humbled and his biggest rivals - the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) - triumphant.
The party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo scored a larger than expected victory in Rome and looks all but assured of conquering power in the capital after a run-off vote due on 19 June.
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“This is only the half time result, there will be a final sprint, but it is a historic moment,” the M5S’ mayoral candidate in the capital city, Virginia Raggi, said in an overnight statement.
“Romans are ready to turn over a page and we are ready to govern … ladies and gentlemen: the wind is changing, the wind is changing!”, she said.
Raggi, a 37 year-old lawyer, could become Rome’s first-ever female mayor and the youngest in more than 100 years.
Her success comes on the back of a major local corruption scandal known as Mafia Capitale, as well as deep resentment against Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD), which has had a dismal record in office since winning the last municipal elections in 2013.
Some of its cadres were arrested and are facing trial over Mafia Capitale bribery accusations.
Outgoing Mayor Ignazio Marino came out clean, but was forced out by his own party in October over an expenses scandal, and after failing to get to grips with Rome’s endemic traffic, waste management and debt problems.
With counting almost complete, Raggi was said to have won about 35.5 percent, against 25 percent for the PD’s Roberto Giachetti.
The ruling party’s candidate looked at one point to have been pushed into third place by hard-right candidate Giorgia Meloni, and thus excluded from the second round square-off with Raggi, but that scenario, a nightmare for Renzi, did not materialise in the end.
Il Giornale, a conservative opposition newspaper, commented in a front-page headline: “Renzi wobbles, Grillo marches on Rome.”
There was little joy for the prime minister from other key towns.
In Milan, conservative Stefano Parisi drew almost level - at about the 41 percent mark - with the PD frontrunner Giuseppe Sala, forcing a second round contest that could easily lead to an upset.
In Turin and Bologna, outgoing PD mayors secured smaller than expected first-round leads against conservative and M5S challengers. In Naples, where anti-government incumbent Luigi de Magistris looked set to win re-election in two weeks’ time, Renzi’s party slid into a poor third place.
According Stefano Folli, chief political commentator for the La Repubblica newspaper, local election results were influenced by “economic and social uncertainties, unemployment that is not falling, a faltering economic recovery and collective fears on migration and security”. He said the results represent a warning sign ahead of the October referendum on constitutional reforms. Renzi has pledged to resign if he loses it.
At the same time, talk of an M5S triumph must be qualified: its likely victory in Rome could prove to be a poisoned chalice. If the city’s deep-rooted problems get the better of the relatively inexperienced Raggi it could damage the party’s governing credentials.
For a movement claiming to be preparing for national government, the M5S also fared remarkably poorly in other big cities like Naples and Milan, where it won no more than 10 percent of the votes.
Sunday’s vote involved more than 13 million people - about a quarter of the electorate - in 1,342 municipalities.
With polling stations opening from 7AM to 11PM at the end of a bank holiday weekend, there were expectations that not many would bother to cast ballots, but in the end turnout was not as low as feared: 62.1 percent against 67.4 percent in the previous elections.