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Rome Elects Youngest, First-Ever Female Mayor


A political party that was founded by a comedian has gained control of cities across Italy. The Five Star Movement won 19 of the 20 local elections over the weekend, including in Rome. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the winner is the city's first female mayor and, at 37, its youngest.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Italian).

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: As results poured in last night, giving Virginia Raggi more than 67 percent of votes cast in Rome, her supporters cheered their new mayor.

VIRGINIA RAGGI: (Through interpreter) Many say it's up to you now to solve all the city's problems. No, we have to explain that everyone has to work together and do something to bring about change.

POGGIOLI: Another Five Star Movement female candidate defeated the incumbent mayor in Turin, a center-left stronghold. Countrywide, the results dealt a blow to the governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Analysts attributed the Five Star Movement's success to a wave of popular anger with an entrenched political elite and insecurity over economic stagnation and the growing presence of immigrants.

The movement sprang from a satirical blog by comedian Beppe Grillo that chastised the political and economic establishment. The movement is anti-European Union and is allied in the European Parliament with a far-right British party. But political scientist Roberto D'Alimonte says the Five Star Movement cannot be compared to other populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe.

ROBERTO D'ALIMONTE: It's a party that cuts across the political spectrum. So it's a party that appeals to voters of the right, the center and the left. It's trying to move away from the image of being just a protest party to the image of a party that it can actually govern.

POGGIOLI: The biggest challenge will be Rome. This 3,000-year-old city filled with ruins is resistant to technological advances such as subway lines, and it has been mired in widespread corruption and mismanagement. D'Alimonte thinks the chances of fixing it are slim.

D'ALIMONTE: Rome is mission impossible given the problems the city has. And this mission becomes even more impossible because Virginia Raggi, the new mayor, cannot really count on the support of the national government.

POGGIOLI: Nevertheless, should Raggi succeed in improving public services and fulfilling her campaign slogan of legality and transparency, she and the Five Star Movement could then turn their sights toward the next goal - national power. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.