CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Italy has long been known for its revolving door series of Prime Ministers. Its had 65 different governments since World War II. But now there’s a very fresh face trying to lead number 66. Member of Parliament Luigi Di Maio says he’s out to turn the country around. Just 31 years old, he wants to be Italy’s youngest Prime Minister ever. At this Rome University, where he’s making a campaign stop, he could almost blend in with the students. It’s an unlikely setting for a man who has done everything from waiting tables to being a stadium attendant at soccer matches and never graduated from college himself.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: So, you're 31 years old, dropped out of college and now you're running to become the Prime Minister of Italy. How do you respond to that allegation that you are just not cut out to run this country?


LUIGI DI MAIO: Berlusconi, for example, criticizes me for having worked as a steward at the soccer stadium in Naples. But it’s his fault, and the fault of people like him, for such high youth unemployment in Italy. When they make fun of me for my jobs, they’re making fun of an entire generation that they’ve betrayed.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Berlusconi is of course Silvio Berlusconi, the larger-than-life, three-time Prime Minister was equally famous for a tax fraud conviction amid a slew of scandals. Upon resigning in 2011, he left the country reeling, and it has never quite recovered. Youth unemployment has skyrocketed above 40%, while the economy has endured a double-dip recession. Di Maio says he’s out to remedy that. His party, the 5 Star Movement, was founded less than nine years ago, claiming it would clean up the country’s bloated bureaucracy and revolving-door politics. What makes it unique is that it rejects the traditional right-left political dichotomy. Its members run the gamut from former communists to staunch right-wingers Di Maio’s own father was a local councilor for a neo-fascist party. The 5 Stars applauded the election of a fellow populist outsider Donald Trump. Di Maio says he wants to enact Trump-style tax cuts, and like the American President, thinks there are too many migrants in his country. But Di Maio also shares traits with another political newcomer: recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron too was hard to peg politically and his popularity was dangerously underestimated by the elites in his country.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: What makes the 5 Five Star Movement so popular at this moment? It’s leading the country in the polls.


LUIGI DI MAIO: It’s a political power that’s lived up to its promises. We’re the only political group that doesn’t accept taxpayer money for lifetime pensions, double salaries, chauffeured cars and flights. We’re funded entirely by our membership. The Movement takes donations, but no funding from the state or big lobbies.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Di Miao and the 5 Stars are skeptical of Italy’s traditional Western allies, like the United States and favor dropping sanctions on Russia. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden recently accused Russia of meddling in Italy’s voting process just as it did in America’s 2016 Presidential Election. And in 2016 Buzzfeed reported that the 5 Stars had an entire network of websites and social media accounts promoting pro-Kremlin stories. Di Miao denies the Russians are out to help him.


LUIGI DI MAIO: Our role as a party and as a country is to have excellent relations with Russia and other countries.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: The 5 Star Movement has never run Italy’s national government, so it’s hard to know what its policies would look like in practice. But in 2016, it scored a major victory when its candidate was elected Mayor of Rome. And if the Italian Capital is any prelude, say critics, the results haven’t been promising. A growing chorus of Romans has accused the party of letting the city fall into ruins. The bad kind. Streets and parks routinely filled with garbage.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: For the Ancient Romans, the Tiber River is what made the Eternal City, a thriving city. But for modern Rome, it’s become an unofficial dump site. Many people blame the Administration of Rome, which is governed by the 5 Star Movement.


MASSIMILIANO TONELLI: Practically the entire city has realized that they didn’t care about anything but grabbing power.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Massimiliano Tonelli is an Italian journalist, and a co-founder of the popular blog Roma Fa Schifo. Translation: Rome is Gross. Romans post photos and videos of their city getting trashed. The site used to have a strong affinity with Di Maio’s 5 Star Movement. That changed, Tonelli says, after they came into power.


MASSIMILIANO TONELLI: One of this government’s first acts was to block the construction of a waste management plant that would have greatly alleviated this trash emergency. Now the situation has only gotten worse. Their voters have been completely conned. This is very dangerous and should sound the alarm for the entire continent.


CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY: Di Maio says the accusations are nothing more than a media smear job. And Despite his critics, this posterboy of the anti-establishment just might have an ace up his sleeve: Many Italian voters, like their American counterparts in 2016, are fed up with the same old faces. And he has a message for any candidate hoping to turn back the populist tide.


LUIGI DI MAIO: Anyone else who wants to add their voice can do so, but let me be clear: there will be no games over sharing power. Anyone who wants to give a government to Italy, will have to go through us.




























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