Early lead for 'radical' candidate in Mayor of Rome vote
Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (5SM) took a large lead in the first round of voting for the mayor of Rome, in a possible blow to prime minister Matteo Renzi.
Some 13 million people, or a quarter of the adult population, were eligible to vote for mayors in around 1,300 towns and cities, with attention focused firmly on a handful of major centres, including the capital.
Victory in Rome would be a huge breakthrough for anti- establishment 5SM, which was founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo and has grown to be Italy's second-largest party.
A victory by the populist party in the capital's mayoral election is considered to be a key marker of whether the 5SM could eventually challenge Mr Renzi for leadership of the whole country.
The election comes at a time when European populist parties are on the rise. In May, Austria went very close to becoming the first European Union country to elect a far-Right head of state.
Meanwhile populist party leaders like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Frauke Petry in Germany are increasingly starting to believe that becoming head of state is possible.
The 5SM candidate in Rome, Virginia Raggi, has taken the lead in the first round of the mayoral race with 35.5pc of the vote, while Roberto Giachetti, from Mr Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), seems to have edged over far-right candidate Giorgia Meloni by about 4pc (24.7pc v 20.7pc) as the last votes are still being counted.
"The wind is changing, this is the moment," Ms Raggi told her supporters in the early hours of Monday after the initial results came in.
Ms Raggi's main campaign promise, and the reason for her popularity, is to put an end to the capital's history of mismanagement and corruption.
In the latest scandal in the Eternal City, centre-left mayor Ignazio Marino resigned in October following an expenses row nicknamed "Dinnergate" by the press.
If, as the partial results suggest, no-one wins more than 50pc, run-offs between the top two candidates will be held on June 19.
A victory for Ms Raggi would make her Rome's first woman mayor.
The race looked closer in Italy's financial capital Milan; initial results had PD candidate Giuseppe Sala neck and neck with centre-right Stefano Parisi, the centre-left candidate currently ahead by a meagre 1pc.
Mr Renzi, whose popularity has sagged over the last year, has distanced himself from the mayoral elections, arguing that they reflected local issues and would have no repercussions for his coalition government.