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Italy. Chiara Appendino conquers city hall and ends 23 years of center-left dominance.

Turin, a Democratic Party stronghold, falls to the Five Star Movement

One of the Democratic Party’s historical fiefdoms, Turin, where the Five Star Movement has overtaken the center-left stronghold in Northern Italy, has fallen. Chiara Appendino is the new mayor of Turin, a result which, just a month ago, seemed improbable. She obtained 54.6 percent against Piero Fassino’s 45.4 percent, making a great comeback.

“We must repair a deeply wounded city and rebuild the trust between leaders and citizens. We are all Turin,” Appendino said after the victory. “The doors in Palazzo di Città will be open for all citizens of Turin. As a mayor, I won’t be able to solve all the problems, but I will listen to everybody. Today, a chapter in Turin’s history ends and another one is opened. We are ready to govern our beloved city.”

The vote in Turin has national implications; it’s a vote against Matteo Renzi.

After five years of opposition, Appendino ascends to the highest chair in the Sala Rossa, where a year ago Fassino never thought he would see her. He even addressed to her the same prophecy he gave to Beppe Grillo in 2009. “If you want to create a party, do it. Let’s see how many votes you will get,” said the SD’s last secretary to the comedian from the Liguria region; he replied to his future rival in the ballot: “I hope one day you will sit down on this chair, and then we shall see whether you will be capable to implement everything you have promised to implement today. And anyway, the voters will decide.” So they have.

Appendino, 32, is a graduate of Bocconi University and an executive in the company owned by her husband Marco. In January, she gave birth to a baby girl and joined the Five Star Movement in 2010, where she became an active participant, taking care of the city’s finances. She led a campaign without the yelling and the “go screw yourself” typical of Grillo’s movement, probably to avoid scaring the Savoyan moderates. But she collected a wide variety of votes, from the left to the right, a vote that was more “against” rather than “for.” Against the Turin System, which has governed the city for the last 23 years but, also, against Renzi.

The prime minister is taking note of this result because it speaks toward his government. The Five Star Movement’s candidate has successfully reduced the gap separating her from Fassino, not a small distance: She started from 30.92 percent against her adversary’s 41.86 percent, with a 41,750-vote deficit to the outgoing mayor.

The percentage of voters returning to vote was 54.42 percent, not much less in comparison to the first round, where 57.18 percent of the voters turned out. The result shows that the majority of those who didn’t vote for Fassino during the first round chose the Five Star Movement’s candidate. The three candidates from the center-right (Alberto Morano, Lega Nord; Osvaldo Napoli, Forza Italia; and Roberto Rosso, New Center-Right) and Giorgio Airaudo, the left-wing candidate, shared 22.5 percent of the electorate in Turin, and chances are that most of their voters moved toward the Five Star “novelty,” with various desires and motivations, often one conflicting with the other.

The last few days of the campaign saw an end-of-an-era climate, evidenced also by an unexpected media aggressiveness by the outgoing mayor. Two visions of the city clashed during the electoral campaign, one claiming full success in transforming the city from an industrial, Ford-producing city to a city of services and of culture — and the other challenging that narrative. “The center,” Appendino said, “has been subject to noticeable re-qualifying interventions, a front-view window. But the suburbs, where the economic indicators appear as being dramatic, have been neglected. We’d like to create a polycentric Turin, where all the neighborhoods, even the most external ones, can be the subject of economic and social development.”

Will the Five Star Movement’s members succeed in this ideal? Certainly the task is not an easy one, and neither will it be simple to keep such promises.

But, in any case, Sunday’s vote was a historic day for Turin. The administration which governed the city for the last 23 years, from Valentino Castellani, to Sergio Chiamparino, and to Piero Fassino, has been defeated. A shock that, from a city which has often been called “Italy’s laboratory,” has caused soul searching at a national level. Maybe the left — a left which is in the opposition — can be reborn from there.

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