Roman anger over corruption helps anti-establishment party

ROME (AP) — An anti-establishment candidate in Rome comfortably clinched a runoff mayoral election slot, according to results Monday, as Romans disgusted by corruption scandals and deteriorating city services largely turned away from traditional left-wing and right-wing parties.

Virginia Raggi of the 5-Star Movement took 35.3 percent of the vote Sunday in the Italian capital, trailed by Premier Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party candidate Roberto Giachetti, with just under 25 percent. Since no candidate took more than 50 percent in balloting, the top two face a runoff June 19.

Renzi’s candidate for Milan, Giuseppe Sala, widely praised for smooth management of that city’s Expo 2015, finished just ahead of center-right challenger Stefano Paris. Both head to a runoff.

On Monday, Renzi sought to discourage interpretation of Democratic Party local results as judgment on his government, now in its third year. He cited “local dynamics” in the races across the nation, including in two other big cities, Naples and Turin.

“It’s not a debacle but it’s not enough for us because we want more,” Renzi said.

He is staking his survival as premier on the outcome of a voter referendum in October on a centerpiece reform of his center-left coalition: a drastic overhaul of Parliament’s structure to streamline the lawmaking process.

Calling Sunday’s results a “protest vote,” Renzi contended that voters in October will draw on that same angry mood to confirm his reform, which strips the Senate of lawmaking powers, leaving that job to the lower Chamber of Deputies.

A political analyst ventured a different interpretation.

“Yesterday’s vote suggests that the electorate is increasingly volatile and party identification is further declining,” said Wolfango Piccoli, a London-based director of research at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy. “This makes the referendum outcome even less predictable.”

The 5-Star Movement founder, comic Beppe Grillo, hailed the results, including Raggi’s impressive showing in Rome and a runoff berth for a 5-Star candidate in the industrial town of Turin.

Raggi said she drew on her experiences as a mother in Rome in deciding she had something to offer if she becomes the city’s first female mayor. She cites rundown playgrounds and chaotic traffic, including chronic double-parking making it difficult to maneuver baby strollers.

Giachetti, her rival in the runoff, said “there’s an angry city that wanted to show this anger and I don’t underestimate anything.”

For several years, Rome prosecutors have been unearthing corruption and mafia-like threats by cliques linked to both former right-wing and center-left local politicians in divvying up city contracts, including ones to house and feed migrants. Buses from the mass transit agency, long a source of patronage jobs, frequently break down, and drivers frequently strike. Traffic police staged a mass “sickout” last New Year’s Eve without punishment.

The June 19 runoff will be an opportunity to “rewrite” the city’s future, Raggi told Italian news agency ANSA.

Since last fall, Rome has lacked a mayor. The last one, a Democrat, gradually lost Renzi’s support and resigned as he failed to turn the badly-managed city around.

Indirectly helping Giachetti, and not a right-wing candidate, to snag the second Rome runoff berth was former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who backed a rival center-right candidate, effectively splitting the right-bloc’s votes, further indication of his waning political influence on conservatives.


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