At first glance, Oscar Fulvio Giannino would not look out of place in a Williamsburg coffee shop or poetry slam. Possessing a scholarly and unkempt beard and mustache, glasses, and a pristine bald head, Giannino makes sartorial choices that would do his flamboyant British namesake Oscar Wilde proud.
But he isn't a Brooklyn hipster. He's an Italian journalist and author, who happens to be the most colorful candidate running for prime minister in the February 24-25 election. His Act To Stop The Decline party (Fare per Fermare il Declino) has no chance of landing the top job in the country, but Giannino has garnered a lot of media attention -- he doesn't look like anybody else on the political scene in Italy, or anywhere else for that matter.
But besides fabulous suit-and-tie combinations, Giannino also has a problem: He's been caught lying, and even in a country where politicians' lies are rarely a cause of their downfall, he had to pay a price. He relinquished the leadership of his movement on Wednesday (in a typically Italian twist, he formally remains the party's candidate for prime minister.)
But what did he do exactly? He claimed that he was trained as an economist and claimed to have a master’s degree from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business in “Corporate Finance and Public Finance.” But neither thing is true. In fact, he doesn't even have a bachelor's degree. He was briefly enrolled in an Italian university, but only took a few courses. This was a problem for his party's other big shot, the University of Chicago economist (for real) Luigi Zingales, who also happens to be Italian. Zingales issued a statement earlier this week saying that after having discovered that Giannino had lied on his resume, he had no choice but to step down, and asked that Giannino do the same.
(The Italian newspaper La Repubblica circulated copies of his resume that bore the master's degree qualification. As it turned out, Giannino did study at University of Chicago, but only took one English-language course, IBTimes UK reported.)
Giannino formed his Stop The Decline party in August 2012, promoting a message of economic freedom as a means of "stopping the decline" of his country. His critics say that American-style pro-business stance would be ill-suited for Italy; his supporters maintain that the country's stagnant economy needs a shot of free-market solutions (a doctrine that ironically would fit in just fine at the University of Chicago's Department of Economics, a famously right-of-center place.)
At first, Giannino denied knowledge of the gaffe, but was forced to acknowledge his lies when a video surfaced of an interview in which he made the same claim. On Wednesday, after hours of debate, Giannino resigned the leadership of Stop The Decline. He remains in the party, and will likely still be elected to Parliament.
Fermare Il Declino released the following statement: “The lawyer Silvia Enrico is the new National Coordinator for Act To Stop The Decline, after the resignation of Oscar Giannino. This is the leadership’s decision as of noon today. Giannino did not wish to listen to reason and was adamant in his decision that he passed down to the 18 members” of the party's leadership organ.
Giannino began his political career in the early 1980s when he joined the Italian Republican party (Partito Repubblicano Italiano, PRI), then a centrist member of the governing majority. He was promoted into the national leadership of the party in 1988, and stayed with the Republicans until 1994. He later dedicated himself to writing -- mostly about economics, wouldn't you know it -- and hosted a radio program.