Five Star hopeful aims to be youngest national leader

Luigi di Maio

ROME- The deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies has launched a bid to become the world’s youngest national leader, announcing his candidacy for leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and prime minister of Italy if the party wins a general election due by next May.

 At the age of 31, Luigi Di Maio is three years younger than Kim Jong-Un of North Korea.

 Mr Di Maio, who does not have a university degree, announced his candidacy on Facebook, quoting a phrase attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

 Seen as a moderate in the iconoclastic and populist party founded a decade ago by stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo, Mr Di Maio is expected to win an online vote among Five Star members. The victor will be announced at the party’s conference in Rimini on September 23.

 “Now we have got to complete the task. We take Palazzo Chigi (the prime minister’s office) and we revive Italy,” Mr Di Maio said in an interview published on Sunday by the right-wing newspaper Libero.      

 Mr Di Maio said the maverick party, which proposes a “citizen’s salary” for the poor and unemployed, would grow the economy, sweep away privileges and restore the citizen “to his proper role and his dignity”.

 During a visit to a gathering of the business elite on Lake Como recently Mr Di Maio softened his party’s anti-EU and anti-Euro rhetoric. “We want to stay in the EU and discuss some of the rules which are suffocating and damaging our economy,” he said. “And the money we’re giving the EU budget every year must be one of the themes to put forward to the other countries.”      

 The announcement by Five Star that the party’s leader would also be its candidate for premier was greeted with dismay by some members, as was Grillo’s change to internal rules to allow members who are under judicial investigation to run for office. Mr Di Maio is under investigation in Genoa for alleged defamation.     

 Riccardo Nuti, a M5S MP who was suspended over alleged election irregularities, commented: “Nuti under investigation? Suspended. Other M5S MPs under investigation? Not suspended. (Rome mayor Virginia) Raggi under investigation? Not suspended. Di Maio under investigation? Not suspended and premier.”     

 The youthful Mr Di Maio, who comes from Pomigliano d’Arco near Naples, has a relatively short resume. He studied engineering and law at university, but never completed a degree. An unsuccessful attempt to get elected as a local councillor was followed by a series of odd jobs, including salesman, computer repairman, waiter and labourer.

 His role as deputy speaker makes the personable Mr Di Maio the most visible representative of the party, after Mr Grillo, and he has made get-acquainted visits in that role to the UK, US and Israel.    

 An able communicator, he may also have benefitted from private lessons from his fiancée, Silvia Virgulti, the party’s television coach.

 According to L’Espresso magazine, Ms Virgulti is a member of the Worldwide Womb Blessing Attunement, a new age organisation founded in Britain that harnesses the vibrations of the Divine Feminine for healing purposes; an indication of the openness to new, and sometimes strange ideas that has always characterised the Five Star Movement.