Populist Raggi Caps Anti-Elite Campaign as Rome Votes for Mayor

  • Leading mayoral candidate says victory ‘not a given’
  • Campaign may threaten PM’s plans for October referendum

Populist leader Virginia Raggi made a final plea to supporters of her campaign to unseat Rome’s scandal-plagued ruling elite, saying that victory is not assured despite her lead in polls.

As Italians vote in Sunday’s mayoral elections, Raggi is poised to become the capital’s first female leader -- and score the biggest victory so far for her eurosceptic party. Her campaign has portrayed Italy’s ruling elite as corrupt and her victory would cast doubt over Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s attempts to fix the country’s political system.

“We should all go and vote because the final result is not a given,” the 37-year-old lawyer told a a rally of her Five Star Movement in the Italian capital’s seaside city of Ostia late Friday. She was joined on stage by senior party member Luigi di Maio, deputy speaker of the national lower house.

Raggi led after the first round of voting on June 5 with 35 percent of the ballot, 10 percentage points more than Roberto Giachetti of Renzi’s Democratic Party or PD, who she faces in the run off. Mayors will also be elected in cities including Milan, Turin and Naples.

Five Star is advancing as populist movements including the Alternative for Germany, France’s National Front and Podemos in Spain capitalize on voter frustration with established political parties and lackluster economies. Raggi’s success marks Five Star’s evolution from ex-comedian Beppe Grillo’s maverick movement into a mainstream force that could threaten Renzi’s reforms as he prepares for a referendum on constitutional change.

Raggi has won support as Renzi’s PD has been tainted by an expenses scandal involving Rome’s previous mayor, Ignazio Marino. She has pledged to overhaul the city’s Byzantine administration and institute tight checks on public contracts, a key source of corruption.

The premier has promised to step down if he loses a plebiscite penciled in for October that’s part of efforts to end the revolving-door of governments that have plagued Italy since the war. Renzi’s overhaul would reduce the number of senators to 100 from 315, and curtail the upper house’s power to topple governments.

Renzi’s PD is still the most popular party more than two years after he took office, but an opinion poll by the Ixe Institute last month showed the party’s support has narrowed to 30.5 percent from 40.8 percent in the 2014 European election. Five Star received 28.1 percent while the anti-immigration Northern League had 14.8 percent.

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