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15th Aug 2022

Is Rome mayor election death-knell for 5-Star Movement?

  • According to opinion polls it is unlikely that outgoing 5 Star Movment mayor Virginia Raggi will be re-elected, after her perceived poor handling of the capital in the past five years (Photo: Virginia Raggi's official Twitter account)
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Romans will go to the ballot box on Sunday and Monday (3-4 October) to elect their next mayor, and the outcome is bound to reshape power relations among ruling coalition parties.

Even if local, it will be the first major election after the rise to power of Mario Draghi's 'national emergency' cabinet embracing different political groups. The outcome is expected to further open cracks within the ruling coalition and test the unity among allies.

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  • Italian prime minister Mario Draghi will be watching results closely (Photo: ECB)

Municipal elections will also take place in other major cities, including Milan and Turin, but the battle for Italy's capital - and political centre - is the most important one.

With a total of 22 candidates running for the Eternal City - of which 18 are fringe outsiders who do not stand a chance (such as a bus driver, an estate agent and airplane pilot) - the real competition is down to four.

According to the latest opinion polls it is unlikely that outgoing mayor Virginia Raggi, of the 5-Star Movement (M5S), will succeed in being re-elected. Romans have criticised her poor handling of the capital in the past five years, from rubbish piling up to buses catching fire, fallen trees, horrible roads and ultimately, wild boars roaming the neighbourhoods.

One former 5 Star deputy, who recently left the party and wished to remain anonymous, says Raggi will be the one to pay for the internal crisis that has been tearing apart the M5S since months.

"She came to power in 2016, promising a wind of change, and she was back then a 'new face' that symbolised the renaissance which the M5S preached. Five years later: what's left of that revolution? A heap of rubble and a dirty, smelly capital".

On barely 15-percent Raggi faces tough competition.

Outsider Enrico Michetti, a lawyer and radio host backed by a rightist alliance formed by Brothers of Italy, the League and Forward Italy (Forza Italia) is leading with 34 percent, followed by the Democrat Party's candidate Roberto Gualtieri (29 percent), Italy's former economy minister and a former MEP.

The fourth candidate, with 14 percent, is liberal-centrist Carlo Calenda, an ex-Democrat Party member and leader of progressive party Azione [Action].

But opinion polls diverge, and it is likely that there will be a run-off on 17 and 18 October if none of the candidates secure enough votes, with several polls (although not all) suggesting it will come down to Romans choosing between Michetti and Gualtieri.

Rome is 'very peculiar'

Government coalition sources noted in fact that the vote outcome could overturn all opinion polls, and that Rome's new mayor could win with a razor-thin majority, making it nearly impossible to predict who will eventually pull it off at the end.

One Democrat MP, again speaking unattributed, said: "Right now, there isn't one single candidate close to an absolute majority, in any opinion poll, and we all know that the final vote outcome is frequently quite different from pre-vote surveys and analyses when it comes to the capital. Rome is a very peculiar electoral stage, very tricky".

"It sets the barometer for Italy, giving a sense of where each party stands and where it is heading to at national level".

The final result will also depend on how well Calenda will perform, added the Democrat.

Calenda has been "thoroughly doing his homework" as future mayor and has been frequently praised by members of different parties as a candidate with the right skill set, able to lure disillusioned voters from the left and the right.

A League official admitted Calenda could turn out to be a bombshell.

"There are some people within the League, those who are more pro-government and have totally ditched the populist rhetoric, who think he's more credible and prepared than Michetti, whom the party officially endorses together with Forward Italy and Brothers of Italy".

If Calenda succeeds in winning over a few League voters it would open a rift within Matteo Salvini's party and raise the antagonism with Brothers of Italy 's leader Giorgia Meloni.

Meloni vs Salvini civil war for the Right

The two, despite public displays as far-right allies, have been drifting apart since the League accepted joining Draghi's cabinet. Meloni's group is the only one in opposition, and has cashed-in on its tough 'no-Draghi' stance, luring many former League and 5 Star supporters.

"Rome's mayor vote will finally bring to the surface the underground war between Salvini and Meloni, because even though they support the same candidate each party is running for itself in the renewal of the local city assembly so it will all come down to weighing their power shares and see if their rightist alliance is actually bad for each", said Giovanni Orsina, director of the school of government at Rome's LUISS university.

But opposing polls do not give a clear picture, leaving the outcome quite uncertain, he argued.

According to Orsina the vote will also be the first real testing-ground for the 5 Star Movement to demonstrate they are not, in fact, a dying party, or to what extent they are faring.

"It is true, the M5S are very, very far away from their days of triumph back in the 2016. But are we really sure they're facing their end? Raggi's future will tell us".

The fact that former premier Giuseppe Conte has taken the movement's leadership could boost Raggi's chances of success, but much will depend on whether Romans living in the capital's outskirts - those who voted for Raggi five years ago - will do so again, says Orsina.

The real challenge, however, he adds, will be to secure swing voters and those who have not yet made up their minds - according to opinion polls, these voters make up roughly 40 percent. These will decide last-minute, only once they're inside the secrecy of the voting booth, with a pencil in their hand.

Author bio

Silvia Marchetti is a Rome-based freelance reporter. She covers finance, economics, travel and culture for a wide range of international media.

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