Protest party’s Rome success a blow to PM

Protest party’s Rome success a blow to PM

ROME – Agence France-Presse
Protest party’s Rome success a blow to PM

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi gives a press conference on June 6, 2016 in Rome, a day after the first round of the mayoral elections - AFP photo

Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star movement fired a warning shot across Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s bow on June 6 with a landmark victory in the first round of Rome’s mayoral race.

Five Star (M5S) candidate Virginia Raggi looks likely to become the capital’s first female mayor after easily taking the lead over Roberto Giachetti of Renzi’s center-left Democratic Party (PD), tapping into anger over corruption scandals in the Eternal City.

The movement also celebrated gains in other cities, mirroring the rise of populist and anti-establishment parties across Europe.

“A historic result. #Let’s change everything,” a jubilant M5S tweeted.

Lawyer Raggi, 37, who snapped up nearly 36 percent of the vote according to the provisional official tally, will face Giachetti, who took 24 percent, in a run-off on June 19.

Losing control of Rome would not augur well for Renzi four months before a referendum on constitutional reforms designed to end decades of gridlock in parliament.

The 41-year-old premier has vowed to resign if voters reject the reforms.

“Unless there is a startling and dramatic turn in events, the capital is going to have a ‘Grillino’ mayor,” political commentator Stefano Folli said in the Repubblica daily, using a nickname for the movement’s members.

The Italian capital has been without an elected leader since last October, when Ignazio Marino, a member of PD, was forced to quit over an expenses scandal.

The city is also still dealing with the fallout from Mafia Capitale, a scandal that erupted in 2014 when dozens of businessmen, politicians and officials were arrested on suspicion of having conspired for years to siphon off city funds through rigged tenders and other scams.

In Turin, the PD also failed to clinch an all-out victory, and will have to face off against the M5S candidate, while in Milan, the PD appeared to have won against the right only by the skin of its teeth.

“(Renzi’s) party is in a terrible state, it is at risk all over the place, even in the cities it considered in the bag,” commentator Marco Travaglio said in the left-wing Il Fatto Quotidiano daily.

A Five Star win in Rome would boost the populist movement -- founded in 2009 by wild-eyed and outspoken comedian Beppe Grillo -- as it seeks to cement its status as a mainstream party.

“Romans are sending a clear message. We are witnessing a historic moment,” Raggi said in a nighttime victory address.