Rome set to elect first female mayor

Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement's candidate for mayor of Rome, gestures during a campaign rally in Ostia, near Rome, Italy.
Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement's candidate for mayor of Rome, gestures during a campaign rally in Ostia, near Rome, Italy. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

ROME (AFP) - Voters in the Italian capital go to the polls Sunday (June 19) with all signs indicating that they will elect Virginia Raggi as the first female mayor of the Eternal City.

Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer and local councillor, has leapt from anonymity to become one of the best-known faces in Italian politics in the space of only a few months on the campaign trail.

The telegenic brunette is the rising star of the populist Five Star movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo.

It has emerged as the best-supported opposition to the centre left, Democratic Party (PD)-led coalition of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and the stakes are extremely high for a movement that was only founded in 2009.

With the ebullient Renzi's star waning slightly, success in Rome could provide a platform for a tilt at national power in general elections due in 2018.

"We are witnessing a historic moment," Raggi said after the June 5 first round of voting, from which she emerged with 35 per cent of the vote, well ahead of her run-off rival, Roberto Giachetti (24 per cent).

It was a remarkable achievement for a party with a very limited organisational apparatus and also for a woman who only entered politics five years ago.

That was a move, she recently told AFP, triggered by the birth of her son Matteo and her determination that he should not grow up in a city beset by the intertwined problems of failing public services and endemic corruption.

Opposition to Italy's endemic cronyism and sleaze is the foundation of M5S's appeal to voters and the Roman electorate have had their fill of those in recent years.

Dozens of local businessmen, officials and politicians are currently on trial for their involvement in a criminal network that ripped off the city to the tune of tens - if not hundreds - of millions.

From stealing the funds allocated to get ethnic Roma children to school out of isolated camps, to paving the city's streets with wafer-thin surfaces, scams abounded for years, according to prosecutors, in what is known as the Mafia Capitale scandal.