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article imageItaly's populist 5-Stars to choose PM candidate

By AFP     Sep 19, 2017 in World

Italy's populist 5-Stars are ready to shoot for political gold: the anti-establishment movement will elect a candidate this week it hopes will make history by beating traditional parties to the top job.

Hot favourite Luigi di Maio, 31, the movement's most popular politician, is running in an internal ballot against seven unknowns and is widely believed to have the vote in the bag.

The snappily-dressed lower house deputy has been openly groomed to run for prime minister in the spring 2018 general election by comic Beppe Grillo, who co-founded the 5-Stars (M5S) in 2009.

The movement, which bases much of its appeal on fighting corruption and has promised a referendum on membership of the euro, emerged as a major political force in 2013 and went on to score stunning local victories, including taking control of Rome and Turin last year.

And despite a poor performance at local elections in June, for months now the 5-Stars have been neck and neck in the polls with the centre-left ruling Democratic Party (PD), with recent projections showing they would win almost 30 percent in a national race.

Telegenic Di Maio will go up against six totally unknown candidates and a low-profile senator in an electronic vote this week that has both amused and irked traditional parties and the country's mainstream media.

"Di Maio's lone run for the 5-Stars," said the La Stampa moderate daily, while the left-wing Il Fatto Quotidiano asked: "Do you want Luigi or Di Maio? One real candidate and seven fakes".

The winner will be announced late Saturday at a 5-Star meeting in the northern coastal city of Rimini.

The ballot will be hosted on a computer platform managed by a private company, Casaleggio Associati, which was set up by Gianroberto Casaleggio, who co-founded the movement with Grillo and who died in 2016.

Critics say the platform allows no independent review of the voting process and rivals on the left and right have accused the movement -- which summarily expels dissidents -- of holding a "joke" ballot.

"A M5S primary like in North Korea," said PD senator Andrea Marcucci.

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