ROME • Voters in the Italian capital went to the polls yesterday, with all signs indicating that they will elect Ms Virginia Raggi as the first female mayor of the Eternal City.
Ms 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, whose victory would be a blow for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, is the rising star of the populist Five Star movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo.
Polling stations opened at 7am (1pm Singapore time) and were set to close at 11pm.
More than nine million voters were eligible to take part in yesterday's second round election in 126 communes, including Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin and Bologna.
"It's a very special day for us, we finally have the chance to have somebody new who can change things," said a 72-year-old pensioner shortly after casting his ballot for the Five Star movement at a primary school in the Trastevere district of Rome.
All eyes are on Five Star, which has emerged as the best-supported opposition to the centre left, Democratic Party (PD)-led coalition of Mr Renzi, and the stakes are extremely high for a movement that was only founded in 2009.
With the ebullient Mr Renzi's star waning slightly, success in Rome could provide a platform for a tilt at national power in general elections, due in 2018.
The PD also faces defeat in Italy's financial capital Milan and a tough challenge in Turin.
"We are witnessing a historic moment," Ms 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 second-placed rival Roberto Giachetti (24 per cent).
It was a particularly remarkable achievement for a party with a very limited organisational apparatus and also for a woman who entered politics only five years ago.
That was a move, she recently said, 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 ingrained 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.
Mr Renzi has sought to downplay the importance of the election, repeating that the "mother of all battles" for him is an October referendum on sweeping constitutional reforms aimed at ushering in stability into Italian politics. He has pledged to step down if he loses.