Capital chaos: Trouble mounts for Five Star Movement

It was supposed to be the start of something big. When the Five Star Movement won the keys to Rome's City Hall in June, all the talk was of the anti-establishment movement founded by comic Beppe Grillo starting to look like Italy's government in waiting.

Capital chaos: Trouble mounts for Five Star Movement
Photo: AFP

Two months later the party is in crisis, its credibility on the line because the beleaguered new mayor, Virginia Raggi, has still not finalized a team to run the city she vowed to start cleaning up from day one.

Fed up with chaos and corruption in their public services, Romans swept Raggi into power to chants of “Onesta, Onesta” (Honesty, Honesty), Five Star's rallying cry.

Populist surge puts first woman in charge of Rome Photo: AFP

But the themes that dominated the election have come back to haunt the political novice who became the  first female leader of the Eternal City.

After a week of turmoil, Raggi, 37, now stands accused  of being anything but honest. She has scored a string of political own goals and, despite hopes to the contrary, has failed to tame what many regard as an ungovernable city.

READ MORE: After Brexit, keep a close eye on Italy's Five Star Movement

Her woes started last month when rubbish began to pile up on the streets of Rome's neglected outlying suburbs, providing a smelly reminder of endemic problems at the city's corruption-tainted refuse collection agency AMA.

Simultaneously, Raggi came under fire for putting a former AMA insider, Paola Muraro, in charge of cleaning up the agency.

'I'm not giving up'

Worse was to follow. Muraro, it quickly emerged, is under criminal investigation linked to her time as an AMA consultant and the mayor knew that.

Raggi told a parliamentary hearing this week that she had informed her own party hierarchy but had not felt compelled to make the information public. Political opponents and much of the media smelt blood: was the squeaky clean party of transparency exposing itself as just like all the others?

Raggi maintains she did not deliberately mislead the public. “I'm not giving up,” she vowed.

But her handling of the issue has angered M5S activists and increased tensions between Raggi and Grillo. The pair are reportedly no longer on speaking terms as the mayor resists the party founder's desire to keep her on a tight rein.

Luigi Di Maio, the Grillo protege seen as the movement's likely candidate for prime minister, has also been damaged, having been forced into an embarrassing confession that he had not grasped the severity of the allegations against Muraro. “I made a mistake,” he told a rally of party faithful.

Hit in the polls

Raggi's cause was not helped by her decision to appoint a chief of staff on a reported salary of 193,000 euros, twice that of his predecessor.

Despite the generous stipend, he resigned last week, along with the city finance chief and three senior staff at AMA and ATAC, the company that runs the city's much-maligned public transport. A replacement finance chief had not even started work before he too was forced to step aside because of his own legal problems.

Analysts say the fiasco in Rome is bound to damage the national standing of a party that had overtaken the ruling Democratic Party in the opinion polls with around 30 percent of voters pledging to back them in national elections.

“M5S has blundered every step of the way and it is paying the price for thinking practically anyone could run Rome: (Raggi's) three years' experience as a city councillor were never going to be enough,” said Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor of political science at the John Hopkins School in Bologna.

Is Italy's Five Star up to the challenge of running Rome? Beppe Grillo, the party's leader. Photo: AFP

“What has happened will have an effect on public opinion and some people who were planning to vote M5S could change their minds,” Pasquino told AFP.

Pollster Antonio Noto said the fiasco in Rome had affected the movement's national standing but that it was too early to say if a hit of around three percentage points would be long-lasting.

“For the first time since the movement was created, half its supporters are very critical of how this affair has been handled – that is something new,” Noto, of IPR Marketing, told daily Il Messaggero.

“But that does not necessarily mean voters will abandon them, they'll see how the situation develops.”

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What are the best Rome neighbourhoods for international residents?

Whether you're moving to Rome for the first time or are looking for a new neighbourhood to live in, here are five of the best 'quartieri' for foreign nationals.

What are the best Rome neighbourhoods for international residents?


Testaccio is a historic working-class Roman neighbourhood that’s become increasingly popular among international residents in recent years.

It’s surrounded on two sides by the Tiber, meaning you can walk along the river into the centre of town; and has good transport links, as it’s right next to both Piramide metro and Ostiense train station.


With its bustling food market and old-school Roman restaurants, Testaccio is a foodie haven, and you’ll often see food tours huddled around the market stalls nibbling on supplì and pecorino (though it’s mercifully otherwise relatively free of tour groups).

Testaccio's historic food market is a major draw.

Testaccio’s historic food market is a major draw. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP.

At one point it was ancient Rome’s river port and a commercial hub, so you’ll also see interesting Roman ruins like Monte Testaccio, a little hill formed entirely of broken clay pots (a 2000-year-old trash heap) or historic archways that made up part of the old quayside.


Located just across the river from the city centre, Trastevere is one of Rome’s most picturesque neighbourhoods, with the characteristic cobbled streets, terracotta-coloured dwellings and draping vines that many foreigners think of as quintessentially Italian.

READ ALSO: Six things foreigners should expect if they live in Rome

That also means it’s extremely popular with tourists and foreign students, who throng its piazzas and labyrinthine alleys year-round.

There’s no shortage of restaurants and bars in which to while away lazy afternoons and evenings; in fact there’s little else, and you’ll have to do a bit of digging to find ordinary shops and services.

Trastevere is popular with tourists and students.

Trastevere is popular with tourists and students. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

Its central location means Trastevere has less of a neighbourhood feel than somewhere like Testaccio, but if you’re looking for a buzzing area that’s just a short stroll from some of Rome’s most famous monuments, it could be the place for you.


If you’re moving to Rome but wish you were in Berlin, you might want to venture east of the centre to Pigneto, where the cool kids go.

Its grey apartment blocks and grungy aesthetic might not make it much to look at, but its cheap(ish) rents and refreshingly un-stuffy vibe are attracting increasing numbers of young people.

Pigneto makes up for in coolness what it lacks in beauty.

Pigneto makes up for in coolness what it lacks in beauty. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Pigneto’s main strip of bars and restaurants, relatively quiet during the day, comes to life in the evenings and especially on weekends, when it turns into a vibrant party hub.

As well as having a fairly youthful population, the area is more of a cultural melting pot than many other parts of the city – though for a truly international experience you’ll want to go even further east to Tor Pignettara, where you’ll find some of Rome’s best non-Italian food.

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Just a few hundred feet from the Colosseum, Monti is practically in the city centre, though it’s still managed to retain its own distinctive personality.

It’s a trendy district where you’ll find a mix of stylish wine bars, chic restaurants, vintage clothing stores and high-end boutiques.

READ ALSO: ‘Why I used to hate living in Rome as a foreigner – and why I changed my mind’

Monti’s prime location means rents are high, and you’ll sometimes have to contend with crowds of tourists as you push your way to your front door.

But if you want to live in a fashionable and attractive neighbourhood that’s in Rome’s beating heart, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option.

Rome's trendy Monti district is a stone's throw from the Colosseum.

Rome’s trendy Monti district is a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.


Heading to the northwest of the city centre, just east of Vatican City, sits the elegant residential and commercial district of Prati.

This neighbourhood’s broad avenues, attractive residences and upmarket shopping streets have historically made it preserve of upper-class Italians, many of whom work in surrounding offices or the several courthouses that fall within its boundaries.

Prati’s grid-like shape and heavily-trafficked roads mean it doesn’t have much of a neighbourhood feel, but it has plenty of sophisticated restaurants, cafes and bars.

It’s also just across the river from Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s largest and most attractive parks, with easy access to the world-class Galleria Borghese art gallery.

READ ALSO: Six essential apps that make life in Rome easier for foreign residents

Rome's Prati district is just across the river from leafy Villa Borghese.

Rome’s Prati district is just across the river from leafy Villa Borghese. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.