Renzi risks losing Rome to Five Star in key local vote

Italians go to the polls on Sunday for municipal elections that represent tests for both Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the country's divided right, with both fearing a chastening defeat in Rome.

Renzi risks losing Rome to Five Star in key local vote
Five Star's candidate for mayor of Rome is polling ahead. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
More than 1,300 municipal councils will be elected in a two-round ballot to be completed on June 19, with the primary focus on the major cities of Bologna Milan, Naples, Turin, and especially the capital, where the populist,
anti-establishment Five Star is heading the race for the mayor's seat.
Rome has been without an elected leader since last October, when Ignazio Marino, a member of Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party, was forced to quit over an expenses scandal.
That episode and a much bigger, unrelated scandal over organised crime's infiltration of City Hall have bolstered Five Star's Virginia Raggi.
She goes into Sunday's vote with polls indicating she could secure around 30 percent of first round votes. The PD's Roberto Giachetti was trailing on around 24 percent.
Losing Rome would not augur well for Renzi four months before he puts his position on the line in a referendum on constitutional reforms designed to end decades of gridlock in parliament.
And the setback would be even greater if, as looks possible, the PD candidate in Milan is also defeated.
Five Star meanwhile are hoping that success in Rome will give them the platform they need to transform themselves into Italy's principal opposition in the run-up to national elections due by June 2018 at the latest.
“I think for Five Star the best outcome in Rome would be to lose narrowly in the run-off, they could talk that up as a glorious defeat and continue to be in opposition,” said Piergiorgio Corbetta, an academic specialist on the
“If they win they have to make the move from being a protest party to proposing things and it will only take six months for them to show they are genetically no different from the other parties they accuse of corruption and
dishonesty,” he said.
With former premier Silvio Berlusconi now a fading figure on the national stage, Italy's right is being reshaped and the battle for leadership is being played out in Rome.
Giorgia Meloni, a candidate put up by one of several grouplets that emerged from Italy's neo-fascist movement, is being backed by the anti-immigrant Northern League, whose leader Matteo Salvini wants to united all the right
behind himself.
But Berlusconi has backed another candidate, Alfio Marchini, having told the pregnant Meloni that the role of mayor was not compatible with motherhood.
PD candidates are comfortably ahead in the polls in Turin and leftist bastion Bologna while the outgoing mayor of Naples, an independent who has been a vocal critic of the government, is also expected to be returned to
Perhaps concerned about the impact of losing both Rome and Milan for the momentum of his reform programme, Renzi has played down the significance of the local elections.
“The municipals are about mayors, the people whose job it is to repair the streets, not the government of the country,” he said recently.  Some 16,000 polling stations open at 7.00 am (0500 GMT) and close at 11.00
There are concerns the turnout could be low with millions of Italians enjoying a long holiday weekend as a result of Republic Day falling on Thursday.


Vaccine row erupts in Italy as populist govt seeks to ease rules

A row is erupting over vaccines in Italy as the country's new populist government fights to roll back a law that bans children from attending school if they haven't received a series of jabs.

Vaccine row erupts in Italy as populist govt seeks to ease rules
Photos: AFP

The law, adopted last year by the centre-left government that was booted out of power in March, made it compulsory for children in pre-school education to be vaccinated against 10 diseases, including measles, tetanus and poliomyelitis.

Parents who have not vaccinated their children by the time they reach school age (six years old in Italy) face a fine of up to 500 euros.

The new administration — formed of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the nationalist League — is leading the charge against the law.

Last week, the upper house Senate approved an amendment proposed by Five Star and the League pushing back enforcement of compulsory vaccination for pre-schoolers to the 2019-20 school year, pending a complete revision of the law after the summer recess.

New health minister Giulia Grillo, from Five Star, has drafted a new bill introducing what she calls a “flexible obligation”, giving priority to education on the benefits of vaccines, encourages use of compulsory vaccination only over short periods and instances when the coverage rate is too low.

Grillo, a doctor, claims there will be guarantees that children who haven't been immunised could be enrolled in classes where the WHO recommended coverage is assured.

However she also caused outrage when, in an interview with major daily Corriere Della Sera on Wednesday, she said that it wasn't realistic to “make people believe that no one will die” of measles.


Parents currently have to present pre-school institutions with booklets that list the vaccines, updated by the doctors who administer them.

For the 2019-20 school year plans were in place for educators to get vaccine information on each child directly from local health authorities, a measure designed to bypass the possibility of anti-vax parents falsifying documentation.

That measure was adopted in order to fight back against a drop in the number of people being vaccinated that had taken coverage below the 95 percent limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

That coverage ratio is the minimum required to create the communal immunity that staves off diseases and protects people with compromised immune systems who can't be vaccinated.

Coverage rates increased in Italy following the enaction of the previous government's law, but many regions remain well below the WHO threshold for a number of illnesses.

Data from Italy's National Health Institute released in July showed that four people — including a 10-month-old baby — had died from measles between January and May, the same number that died in the whole of 2017. In total over 1,700 people had contracted the disease, while last year 5,400 cases were recorded.


The WHO says that Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of the 21,315 measles cases recorded across Europe last year, when cases of the disease soared across the continent.

The number of cases in Italy alone last year was close to the entire European total for 2016, a record low of 5,273, according to the WHO.

While both Five Star head Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini say they are in favour of vaccines and have vaccinated their own children, they consider the current law “coercive” and criticise it for blocking children's access to education.

Some people are fighting back against the government, with a petition created by concerned parents against the amendment attracting around 100,000 signatures in just a few days.

Several regional presidents have announced that they intend to enforce the vaccine obligation even if it is withdrawn, while the national association of headteachers has also said that the current law would remain in force and that parents would have to present a medical certificate proving their children have been vaccinated.