Italy’s Five Star Movement takes control of former mafia town Ostia

Italy's populist Five Star Movement has won a local election in Ostia, a seaside suburb of Rome once ruled by organized crime.

Italy’s Five Star Movement takes control of former mafia town Ostia
A view of Ostia Lido. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The vote was the first in Ostia since police dissolved the district’s government two years ago due to its infiltration by the mafia, the first time such a step had been taken in Rome. It was also closely watched as a barometer of public sentiment ahead of a national election that must be held next spring.

A first round of voting on November 5th left the Five Star Movement going head to head with the centre-right coalition Brothers of Italy, with the ruling Democratic Party failing to make the run-off.

The Five Star Movement won just under 60 percent in the second round on Sunday, making its candidate Giuliana Di Pillo the new president of Ostia’s council with 15 of her party colleagues sitting alongside her.

Writing on her Facebook page after the victory, Di Pillo said: “It's a victory of honest citizens, who have retaken the local government and who want to rebuild from the rubble”.

Pictured: Giuliana Di Pillo celebrating with party colleagues. “Now the 10th district can really start again; from today we will roll up our sleeves to reclean the culture with legality and transparency, we will work to repay the trust of all the citizens.”

“It's evident that there's been a Five Star Movement effect and a Raggi effect,” she continued, referring to Rome's Five Star mayor Virginia Raggi, who triumphed in elections in the capital last June. “The voters understood that the Five Star Movement is the only political force that has never governed this region and we will work to pay back their trust.”

There will also be nine opposition councillors, including one from the neo-fascist CasaPound party, which has been accused of ties to Ostia’s organized crime families.

Two days after the first-round vote, a member of the notorious Spada clan was filmed headbutting a TV journalist as he sought to question the mobster about his alleged support for CasaPound.

Roberto Spada, the brother of boss Carmine Spada, was arrested for the attack, which left Rai2 journalist Daniele Piervincenzi with a broken nose.

The incident turned an international spotlight on Ostia, where journalists and residents protested in defence of freedom of speech.

READ ALSO: Press freedom in Italy: Six key things to know

Mayor Raggi condemned the attack and pledged to crack down on crime.

Turnout for Ostia's second-round vote was low, at less than 34 percent.

But the result is still good news for the populist Five Star, which also doubled its share of the vote in a regional election in Sicily earlier this month.

The party's founder Beppe Grillo said at the time: “The adventure has only just begun.”

ANALYSIS: There's an election in Italy next year – and the M5S has some familiar problems


On eve of election, Italy braces for potential far-right win

Italians on Saturday braced for seismic change, on the eve of an election forecast to hand Italy the most right-wing government since World War II.

On eve of election, Italy braces for potential far-right win

Out with internationally respected Mario Draghi and in — polls say — with Eurosceptic Giorgia Meloni, head of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, who is widely tipped to become the country’s first woman to head a government.

“The country is eager for a change, a new face,” Wolfango Piccoli of the London-based political risk consultancy Teneo told AFP.

Italy is battling a series of crises, from rampant inflation and extreme weather events linked to climate change, to an energy crisis aggravated by the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

The campaign, sparked by Draghi’s downfall in July, wrapped up on Friday, giving Italians a day of reprieve as electioneering is banned until the vote.

People who spoke to AFP in Rome on Saturday said they were unsure the day before the election as the latest polls show that the Brothers of Italy party is likely to win and form a government.

“I am worried by the fact that the polls have the right-wing as the winner, especially Giorgia Meloni,” said Maria Tasca, a 27-year-old student originally from Sicily.

‘No magic solution’

“From what she has said on women’s rights, on young people’s rights, on rights in general, I see things going backwards by at least 50 years,” Tasca added.

“The problems are worldwide, there’s no magic solution. But sometimes you have to change,” said a 75-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Dante.

Meloni, 45, has worked hard over the past few weeks to reassure skittish investors and an anxious Brussels that her party’s historic ties to supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini are a thing of the past.

She has softened her tone and posted a video of herself on TikTok making traditional pastries from the Puglia region.

But she channelled warrior Aragorn from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings on Thursday at the closing rally for the right-wing coalition, which unites her Brothers of Italy with Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League party and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s League

The self-described “Christian mother” segued smoothly from the fantasy king to blaming the left for the country’s “drug dealers, thieves, rapists and mafia”, adding: “This Italy ends on Sunday”.

Berlusconi, 85, was at her side.

The media mogul — who is on trial accused of bribing starlets not to testify about his allegedly erotic parties — has campaigned mainly online, wooing grandmothers and housewives with promises of stay-at-home salaries.

TikTok jokes

He has also chased the youth vote with some TikTok jokes — including one about not trying to steal their girlfriends.

The race has seen the parties try to win over voters with ideas such as sending goods from northern to southern Italy via tube and fighting climate change with cannabis.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s Five Star Movement

Former interior minister Salvini, 49, campaigned under the slogan “Credo” (I believe), earning him a rebuke from the Catholic Church.

Fearful of losing a significant chunk of his supporters to Meloni, Salvini has tried to stand out by calling for an end to sanctions against Russia and railing against Brussels.

But the end of his campaign was overshadowed by a video clip of him describing a blind League candidate on Thursday as “an eye for Italians”.

The centre-left’s Enrico Letta, head of the Democratic Party (PD), rocked up to his final rally in an electric van — reminding voters of his earlier efforts to promote ecologically friendly transport, when his electric campaign
bus ran out of battery.

His main rival for votes on the left, Giuseppe Conte, head of the populist Five Star Movement, seemed to have more staying power.

He was photographed so often standing head and shoulders above the crowd amid a throng of supporters that the media dubbed him the “travelling Madonna”.