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‘Elegant Brunette’ Leads Populist Revolt in Rome Mayoral Race

After decades of corruption, scandal and chronic incompetence have left the reputation of Rome’s city hall in tatters, citizens are rebelling by abandoning traditional political parties in favor of the populist ‘Five Star Movement’, led by a 37-year-old lawyer named Virginia Raggi.

Putting her legal career on hold to run for office, Raggi now leads the pack of candidates in her bid to become Rome’s first female mayor.

Raggi seems to have her finger firmly on the pulse of Roman citizens, who are tired of the embarrassment and frustration of a city that doesn’t work.

“Rome has to first and foremost get back to being a normal city,” Raggi said in a recent interview with AFP, noting that for ordinary Romans, “it is an extremely difficult place to live and that is not right for the capital of Italy.”

According to one local report, many on Italy’s left have felt “betrayed” by their political leadership, and have gotten behind Raggi in an effort to bring back some sense of order to the nation’s capital.

But the shift toward the populist and anti-establishment Five Star Movement signals more than a reaction to the economic and corruption scandals of Ignazio Marino, Rome’s former mayor. It also underscores a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the status quo of Italy’s center-left, which many see as a spineless lackey of the European Union, and its de facto representative, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The national move toward populism, in fact, comes across as a wholesale rejection of “the corruption and cronyism of Italy’s mainstream parties,” as Italians seek leaders outside of the mainstream political circuit. The Five Star Movement was founded in 2009 by television comedian Beppe Grillo, a Eurosceptic who has publicly defended Nigel Farage of Britain’s like-minded UKIP.

One of the refreshingly unique regulations of the Five Star Movement is that candidates may not be “professional politicians.” A member of the party may not hold office more than twice, but must return to his or her original job after a second term.

Meanwhile, the Italian media have noted that the candidate’s movie star good looks have not hurt her popularity, among both men and women.

AFP soberly described Raggi as an “elegant brunette” whom Italians have celebrated as a “dark-eyed beauty.”

The only group that seems to have resisted Raggi’s allure is Rome’s LGBT community, which has reacted sourly after a perceived snub by the Five Star candidate. On Thursday, Rome’s ‘Gay Village’ hosted a homosexual festival attended by nearly all the mayoral candidates, but Raggi bowed out, reportedly responding with a terse “no” and citing “prior municipal commitments.”

“We consider it a missed opportunity,” said LGBT activist and open lesbian Imma Battaglia, adding that the brush-off “guarantees we won’t be voting for her.”

For now, Raggi leads opinion polls. On Sunday Romans will have the chance to vote in the first round of the mayoral election, winnowing out the field for a June 19 run-off vote.

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