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PROFILE Who is Luigi Di Maio, new leader of Italy's Five Star Movement? By Alvise Armellini, dpa

Europe
23.09.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Rome (dpa) - The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) is Italy‘s most popular party, according to opinion polls, and has a good shot at winning next year‘s general elections, under the newly established leadership of Luigi Di Maio.

Di Maio, 31, was named the party‘s leader and prime ministerial candidate at a conference in Rimini after winning online primaries in which he was the runaway favourite, facing nominal opposition from seven outsiders.

A law degree dropout who entered parliament in 2013, Di Maio has little experience - like most of his M5S peers - but his preppy looks, including a suit and tie, and neatly cropped hair, has made him the most presentable face of what was born as a radical opposition party.

In a 2016 interview with dpa, he hailed the M5S as "a young, independent and post-ideological political force" ready to change Italy that was unencumbered by the negative "influence of lobbies, ideology or corruption."

The M5S was founded in 2009 by Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian who should now leave the limelight to Di Maio.

The new leader has been preparing for his role by moving the M5S towards more mainstream, even conservative, positions.

In a recent speech to Italian businessmen, Di Maio said the M5S was no longer populist and would call a eurozone referendum only "as a last resort." And earlier this year, he led a campaign against illegal migration, accusing rescue organizations of acting as human-smuggling "taxis."

Di Maio‘s rise has been marred by some faux pas. He falsely identified Augusto Pinochet as the former dictator of Venezuela, rather than of Chile, and penned a commentary about "Romanian criminals" that is regarded by critics as racist.

In line with the M5S‘ insistence that it is neither a left- or right-wing party, Di Maio‘s political heroes are eclectic: He has listed both Italy‘s former Socialist president Sandro Pertini and Spanish conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as sources of inspiration.

Hailing from Pomigliano d‘Arco, an industrial suburb of Naples, the new M5S leader is the son of a Latin and Greek high school teacher and a real estate developer who used to be an activist in the neo-Fascist MSI party.

His parents expected a lot from him, but "I was not particularly charismatic" and "I was bad at football," he told Vanity Fair magazine last year.

He grew up wanting to be a police officer, but then he got into computers: He was a webmaster before running for office.

A non-practicing Catholic, Di Maio is in a relationship with an M5S spin doctor, Silvia Virgulti, who is 10 years older than him.

He is also a car enthusiast and drives a vintage Mini Cooper that he is proud of having personally restored.

While Di Maio is sure to lead the next election campaign, it is unclear how much authority he will have over the M5S, which could remain in the hands of Grillo and Davide Casaleggio, an internet guru whose late father, Gianroberto, co-founded the party.

According to Carlo Freccero, a pro-M5S intellectual, Grillo and Casaleggio have groomed an inoffensive frontman.

"Di Maio has nothing of the charismatic leader," he told Wednesday‘s La Stampa newspaper. "He is the average man [...] a man anybody can identify with."

 

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