The astonishing victory of populist mayoral candidate Virginia Raggi in the first round of elections Sunday in Italy’s capital city signals a radical change in Italian politics, as citizens push out old-line institutional parties in favor of forward-thinking populists.
Raggi’s party—the Eurosceptic, populist, anti-global Five Star Movement—won massive victories on Italy’s Super Sunday, when the young party took first place in the mayoral runs of two of Italy’s most important cities, Rome and Turin.
The Five Star Movement (M5S) is calling Sunday’s results “a historic achievement,” having surprised everyone by such an impressive showing. Raggi took over 35% of the total vote, a full ten percentage points better than her nearest opponent.
“On June 19, we will finish what we started. It will be an opportunity to re-write together, definitely, the future of our city,” Raggi said after the results were tallied Monday. She now faces off against Roberto Giachetti, who took just under 25% of the vote on Sunday, in a run-off election on the 19th.
Speaking on the results, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing Northern League said that the elections announce the birth of a new coalition “for those who do not want to die with Renzi,” referring to Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
At the polls, Italians throughout Italy moved away from the traditional center-left Democrat Party (PD) as well as other parties associated with the status quo in favor of a new-found nationalist spirit, catalyzed in part by Italy’s dire immigrant problem.
Born in Rome, the 37-year-old Virginia Raggi studied law at the Roma Tre University, specializing in intellectual property and new technologies.
A dyed-in-the-wool populist, Raggi says that “true politics in Rome is not carried out by parties but by Roman citizens.” Running on a campaign of administrative transparency after a series of financial scandals that have rocked Rome, Raggi is also targeting basic public services such as waste removal and transportation, widely perceived as inefficient and mismanaged.
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.
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