Italian populist candidates boast they're non-politicians

AP News
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Posted: Jan 29, 2018 1:01 PM
Italian populist candidates boast they're non-politicians

ROME (AP) — Populists aiming to govern Italy for the first time presented their candidates Monday for the March 4 parliamentary election, including an artisan who lost savings in a banking scandal and middle-class professionals boasting of no political background at all.

Luigi Di Maio, 31, the 5-Star Movement leader running for the premiership, introduced the candidates, hailing their "excellence" and "humanity."

"Our objective is go into the government with a team of people who know the problems of Italian citizens and who get to work to solve them, and with competency, enthusiasm, energy," Di Maio said.

Several of the candidates in the lineup touted as qualities their lack of background in politics. The Movement bills itself as a grass-roots form of democracy and insists it's not a political party at all.

First to be presented was a former naval admiral and helicopter pilot, Rinaldo Neri, who described himself as "not a politician" and said he doesn't even know how to speak like politicians do.

But just a few hours later, Neri had to withdraw his candidacy for Parliament when it emerged he had previously been elected as a small town city councilman on a ticket led by a Democrat, a 5-Star political rival.

Other candidates include an artisan who lost savings in one of Italy's banking scandals, which have dogged the Democrat-led government. Angelo Cirulli is in a parliamentary race in a Rome district against Premier Paolo Gentiloni.

Under Italy's complicated electoral system, candidates often run in several districts simultaneously, to boost their chances that if they lose in one district they will persevere in another, thanks to rules that allow for divvying up seats proportionally based on party or alliance votes.

Citizen security is playing out as a campaign issue. One candidate, criminologist Paola Giannettakis, said if elected she would lend her expertise in fighting everything from bullying to homicide to provide "more security in society."

Still another candidate, quake and flood expert Mauro Coltorti, stressed the 5-Star line that the era of traditional political designations is finished.

"Right and left now have no reason to exist anymore," Coltorti said.

But pragmatic politics has induced Di Maio to pitch for support from both right-wing and left-wing parties in his quest for the premiership. While that's business as usual in Italian politics, for the 5-Stars that's a dramatic break with their promise that they'd never enter in alliances with other parties.

Recent opinion surveys have indicated the 5-Stars are the most popular political force but won't win enough seats in Parliament to govern on their own.

Among the parties Di Maio has made overtures to is the anti-migrant, euro-skeptic League, which has its own electoral alliance with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives. Di Maio has also expressed willingness to accept support from a left-wing grouping which broke away from former Premier Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party, which has embraced centrist elements.

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Frances D'Emilio can be followed at www.twitter.com/fdemilio