Italy's 'Protest Candidates' Deal Blow to Austerity in Local Elections

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in Cvitavecchia, 70 km (43 miles) north of Rome May 6, 2012. (Photo: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito)

Italy's 'Protest Candidates' Deal Blow to Austerity in Local Elections

Anti-austerity victory that 'reflects Italians' desire for change'

Italian anti-austerity 'protest candidates' largely dominated in local elections today, delivering a blow to 'traditional parties' who are in favor of Prime Minister Mario Monti's extreme austerity program.

In a high-profile example, comedian Beppe Grillo's Five-Star Movement party won the mayor's office in the city of Parma, over candidates representing the austerity friendly 'political class'.

Today was the second round of voting in a contest to choose city mayors involving nearly 120 local administrations. Despite a generally low turnout, voters were still able to reflect widespread distaste for mainstream politics amid recession.

The political landscape continues to shift in Italy ahead of next year's general elections, as voters continue to challenge austerity regimes across Europe.

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Agence France-Presse: Italian upstart party does well in local polls

Local run-off elections in Italy delivered a surprise victory Monday in northern Parma for the candidate of the upstart populist Five Star Movement.

The party headed by comedian Beppe Grillo, which notched up a strong performance in the first round, scored another success, taking Parma with 60 percent of the vote, according to initial estimates.

Provisional results showed that the centre-left candidate for mayor in Parma, Vincenzo Bernazzoli, lost to Federico Pizzarotti, the Five Star candidate, who scored 60 percent.

The second round saw a low turnout of 54 percent, 13 percentage points lower than for the first round two weeks ago, according to preliminary estimates.

Pizzarotti vowed shortly before the polls closed that he would "act in the name of transparency ... through a common agreement with the citizens."

Four millions voters were eligible to cast ballots in the polls, which were expected to reflect widespread disaffection with mainstream politics amid recession.

In the Sicilian capital Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, spokesman of the left-wing Italy of Values party and a strong opponent of the Mafia, swept to victory over the centre-left Democratic Party candidate with more than 70 percent of the vote.

The port city of Genoa also swung leftward, with centre-left candidate Marco beating the centrist Enrico Musso.

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Reuters: Protest movement gains, parties hurt in Italy vote

Grillo's 39-year-old candidate Federico Pizzarotti, a political newcomer, defeated Vincenzo Bernazzoli, a seasoned politician supported by a coalition of centre-left parties, according to final official results.

"My victory reflects Italians' desire for change," Pizzarotti said.

The two main parties in the right-left coalition that supports Prime Minister Mario Monti - architect of Italy's tough austerity programme - did not fare well in the local elections on Sunday and Monday.

By putting the parties that support the technocrat prime minister in parliament on the defensive, they could make it more difficult for Monti to push through highly unpopular measures aimed at avoiding a Greek-style debt crisis.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's People of Liberty (PDL) party took a walloping in the first round two weeks ago, and lost to the centre left in Piacenza on Monday.

The left-wing Democratic Party (PD) was part of a coalition that won in the port city of Genoa, but was defeated in Palermo as well as Parma.

"The Parma victory is extraordinary. It shows a very clear rejection of the traditional parties," said James Walston, Professor of International Relations at the American University in Rome.

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