Until now, Italy's 5-Star Movement has been viewed a protest and opposition party, however a second round of mayoral elections on Sunday changed that.
As we reported earlier this month, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement candidates in the key cities of Rome and Turin had advanced to the second round of voting in each mayoral race. In Rome, the largest stage for voters to show displeasure with politics as usual under Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, residents were seeking new leadership to put an end to the recent turmoil which included corruption allegations, poor management, and political upheaval. On Sunday, voters in Italy's capital decided quite definitively that it was time to move in a new direction.
5-Star Movement candidate Virginia Raggi, a 37-year old lawyer, was elected Rome's first female mayor by winning a stunning 67% of the vote in the second round. Raggi trounced Roberto Giachetti (Prime Minister Renzi's Democratic Party candidate) who took down just 33% of the vote the WSJ reports. The election of an anti-establishment 5-Star Movement candidate is a statement in itself, however by taking 67% of the vote over Renzi's candidate, a resounding message has been sent that the voters want change.
“We will restore legality and transparency to the city’s institutions after 20 years of poor governance. With us a new era is beginning.” Raggi said.
Another political blow came for Renzi in Turin, where yet another 5-Star Movement candidate was elected mayor. Chiara Appendino won 55% of the vote as the 5-Star Movement candidate, defeating Piero Fassino, the Democratic Party incumbent who took 45% of the vote.
As we discussed after the first round results, Prime Minister Renzi is facing significant challenges within the country, least of which are weak economic growth and a banking sector on the verge of yet another major crisis. The key political losses in Rome and Turin will only bolster the 5-Star Movement, as it now has the opportunity to govern and prove what it can do for the people, while Renzi faces quite a challenge to put forward any type of reform agenda.
“The runoff results in Rome and Turin were a neat and unmitigated defeat,” the Democratic Party said on Sunday night, calling a national party meeting for Friday to analyze the “national indications” of the elections.
There remains a constitutional referendum that will take place in October, and the result of that referendum is something that Renzi has staked his political future on. The referendum itself is to sharply reduce the powers of the Senate, and cut the number of senators by two-thirds, but more importantly, Renzi considers the constitutional overhaul as his flagship program, and as the WSJ notes, if voters reject the referendum Renzi said that he would resign.
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These key election results signal that like in many other nations, the Italian people have had enough with the "establishment", with politics as usual, and are prepared to move in a different direction. If the 5-Star Movement continues to gain further support, Renzi may want to start packing his bags in October - then again, what politicians say and do are always two different things, so the chances of Renzi actually resigning if the referendum fails are quite slim.