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Not Just Rome: Populist, Eurosceptic Party Takes Italy by Storm

Virginia Raggi’s landslide victory in Rome’s mayoral race Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg for Italy’s populist, Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, as the party swept an astonishing 19 of 20 such races in the Italian towns and cities in which its candidates were running for mayor.

Most notably, 31-year-old Chiara Appendino (pictured), another female Five Star candidate, won the race for mayor in Turin, handily defeating a Democratic Party candidate who not long before had been favored to win the election.

The telegenic Virginia Raggi became the first female mayor of Rome, and at only 37 years of age, Rome’s youngest mayor to date. Her swearing-in as Rome’s first citizen is scheduled for Wednesday at the capital’s city hall.

Seven years after its founding, the Five Star Movement has come into its own as the prime opposition party in Italy, staunchly challenging the establishment status quo, and pledging a new era of transparency and a return to self-government.

According to Italian political scientist Lorenzo Zamponi, Raggi’s victory in Rome signals an important sea change for Italian politics, “because the failure of the last few mayors of Rome have become a symbol of the failure of politics.”

Zamponi further stated that “the fact that Five Star Movement could win in Rome is the sign that they are the hope. They are probably the last remaining hope for a significant percentage of the Italian population.”

For his part, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi claimed that the outcome of Sunday’s elections was not “a protest vote,” but rather signaled “a vote of change.”

“Those who won were able to better interpret the need for change,” he said.

There seems little question that the results of municipal elections went beyond local politics, indicating an important shift among Italian citizens.

Roberto D’Alimonte, head of the political science department at Rome’s Luiss Guido Carli University, called the city elections a critical barometer of the public mood.

“These could be viewed as a sort of midterm elections, where electors sent a strong message,” he said. “It’s true that local factors counted, but there is a nationwide climate that produced these results.”

Sunday’s victories for the Five Star Movement are added to its prior holdings, notably the important Italian cities of Parma and Livorno.

The message throughout Italy has come across like a clarion call for change, populism, and a return to self-government.

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Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome

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