When it was founded seven years ago, the Five Star Movement was the voice of anti-establishment protest in Italy, and its biggest voice was the movement’s often bombastic founder and president, the comedian Beppe Grillo. Today, it is a measure of the movement’s maturity that its most prominent new face may be Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer and municipal councilor who appears poised to become Rome’s mayor in a runoff election on Sunday. In a first round of voting almost two weeks ago, Ms. Raggi, a lawyer whose campaign website describes her as a Catholic and bicycle enthusiast, got more than 35 percent of the vote, but not enough to win outright. She now faces Roberto Giachetti, a longtime lawmaker backed by Italy’s governing party, the Democrats, in a runoff on Sunday.
How Ms. Raggi came this far, despite her relative inexperience (she was first elected three years ago), has much to do with the widespread disenchantment with traditional political parties that still pervades in Italy. But it is also an acknowledgment that the Five Star Movement has positioned itself as a viable option for moderate voters, with the ultimate goal of leading the country. “I think voters see us as an alternative. They understand we’re not just a protest movement,” Ms. Raggi said in a recent interview in her electoral office in Rome.
Ms. Raggi’s campaign has been decidedly more restrained than the take-no-prisoners approach of Mr. Grillo, who has grown detached from the movement — even removing his name from the party logo — apparently in an effort to let it to step outside his outsize shadow. “He’s said for some time that he was stepping aside,” Ms. Raggi said. “In the meantime, the movement has grown and is able to walk with its own legs.”
Still, the movement has not lost its bite, and continues to denounce the political and institutional classes and to demand their renewal with a new generation unsoiled by what it views as the country’s corrupt establishment.