Virginia Raggi faces five key tests if she becomes Rome mayor

Five Star Movement candidate will have to deal with several challenges if elected as Italian capitals first female mayor

Italians are heading to the polls on Sunday for local elections that will be closely watched in Rome, where the Eternal City is expected to elect its first female mayor.

The fight between Virginia Raggi, the mayoral candidate for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and the Democratic partys Roberto Giachetti pits a largely unknown quantity against a candidate representing the left-of-centre party of the prime minister, Matteo Renzi.

While local issues, from corruption to unreliable public transport, are likely to decide the race. the election of Raggi to one of the most high profile political posts in Italy would mark an important milestone for the countrys women. The 37-year-old lawyer enters the race having secured 36% of the vote in the first-round election on 5 June, while Giachetti won less than 25% in the crowded field.

But if Raggi wins she will face several challenges. Here are five of them:

1. A new image for the Five Star Movement

A Raggi win would not only be significant for women in Italian politics, it could also mark an important transition in the Five Star Movement, the party founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo.

Beppe Grillo. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

While Grillos political views undoubtedly still rule the party he is vehemently anti-establishment, rails against political compromises, claims to be anti-corruption, and has praised the politics of Britains Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, for his anti-EU views a Raggi victory would test whether the M5S can move beyond its protest party status and actually govern.

So far, the partys record is poor in other cities, including Parma, with a number of M5S politicians facing corruption investigations. Raggis campaign has focused on local problems that vex everyday Romans.

She has vowed to create special bus lanes for buses and more cycle paths, the kind of practical promises that suggest she is not looking to make sweeping political statements.

However, if she is elected and is seen as doing a good job, Renzi, the former mayor of Florence, will undoubtedly be looking over his shoulder. Her sights could soon be set decidedly higher than the mayors office.

2. Taking on Mafia Capitale

Ignazio Marino. Photograph: Ettore Ferrari/EPA

Rome was never considered a capital of organised crime on the scale of Sicily, Naples or Reggio Calabria. But over the last two years, the Italian capital has been rocked by one public corruption scandal after another, known collectively as Mafia Capitale.

The former mayor, Ignazio Marino, resigned amid an investigation into his expenses and broader concerns that he was simply too incompetent to get to grips with the corruption that had ensnared nearly every public service.

The biggest test for Raggi, or any mayor, will be whether Mafia Capitale is a controllable problem or one that will simply consume any administration that attempts to fight it.

Voters have been attracted to Raggi for her straightforward message: she wants to create a Rome that is livable for Romans. It is a simple slogan, but one that could prove surprisingly difficult to deliver on.

3. Taking on the Vatican

Pope Francis in St Peters Square. Photograph: Angelo Carconi/EPA

Raggi has not only vowed to clean up Rome, both literally and figuratively, she has promised to take on the Catholic church.

In an interview with the Guardian, she said that, if elected, she would pursue claims worth 250m and 400m in allegedly unpaid taxes on the Vaticans real estate holdings and other assets.

The taxes had never been collected, she claimed, because past city administrations had been too afraid to take on the church.

While Pope Francis has publicly said shops on Vatican property ought to pay their taxes, any moves to take on the church will nevertheless likely be frowned upon inside the Vatican.

Francis was not shy about his apparent dislike of Marino. Within days of the pontiff criticising Marinos presence at a papal event in Philadelphia, the mayor was forced to resign (albeit for unrelated reasons). It was a keen reminder that any mayor or politician in Italy makes an enemy of the church at their peril.

4. Keeping the Olympics at bay

When Renzi made the audacious decision to throw Romes hat in the ring as a contender to host the 2024 Olympic Games, he said it showed Italy was capable of dreaming of big things.

You can lose, but whats unacceptable is to crouch up and give up on playing the game, he said in 2014, barely acknowledging the serious logistical and financial strains the Games would put on the ancient city.

Renzi at the IOC HQ in Lausanne. Photograph: Pierre Albouy/Reuters

Raggi has said she opposed the bid because Rome was in a delicate moment. It was more important, she said, to think about everyday items instead of extraordinary ones.

In the final weeks of the mayoral campaign, the Olympics have become a litmus test of sorts. While Romes next mayor may not be in office in 2024, her or his support or opposition could be significant.

In that sense, a win for Raggi would send a clear message to Renzi: that the everyday problems of life in Rome cannot be neglected in pursuit of grandiose dreams.

5. Being a woman in Italian politics

This isnt always easy.

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