It's no joke as Italians look to ex-comedian

A nun casts her vote in Rome yesterday in one of the most closely watched elections in years. photograph: yara nardi/ reuters

A nun casts her vote in Rome yesterday in one of the most closely watched elections in years. photograph: yara nardi/ reuters

Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 00:00

At the polling station in Trevignano yesterday I bumped into “Giulia”, a married mother of one. Her family has long been on the left, with her parents having been card-carrying members of the old Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI).

Over the years I have often run into Giulia at centre-left (PD) rallies and meetings. She is one of those activists who puts up the posters, sets up the chairs and tables and acts out the role of MC, microphone in hand, at party gatherings.

This time, however, she is not voting centre-left.

Like millions of angry, disillusioned and sometimes desperate Italians, yesterday she voted for the protest Five Star Movement of former comedian Beppe Grillo.

With definite results in the Italian general election, especially with regard to the senate, not due until tomorrow morning at least, we can at this stage make only one prediction with some certainty.

These two-day elections, in which voting ends this afternoon at 3pm, are sure to be distinguished by a remarkable protest vote in favour of the Five Star Movement.

By this evening it is quite possible that the Grillo movement will have claimed a 20 per cent-plus following which would make it the second biggest party in the land, behind the Democratic Party (PD), which is expected to return 30 per cent.

A huge, perhaps 800,000- strong, rally on Friday night in Piazza San Giovanni, for long the historic stomping ground of the old PCI and the current centre-left, served as one last reminder of the momentum achieved by the Beppe Grillo movement.

Man of destiny

Perhaps no formation will lose out to comedian Grillo as much as the one-time man of destiny himself, media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi (76), whose lower house vote may shrink from the 37.3 per cent of 2008 to below 20 per cent this time.

Never one to go down without a fight, Berlusconi broke the weekend electoral curfew by turning up on Saturday at the Milanello training ground of his Serie A football team AC Milan.

Ostensibly he was was there to preview last night’s derby encounter with city rivals Inter Milan.

Being Berlusconi, however, he did not restrict himself to purely football considerations, telling a Greek TV crew: “Here in Italy the magistrates are a Mafia, and a more dangerous one than the Sicilian Mafia, and I say that knowing that I am saying a very serious thing . . .

“Magistrates have put it about in Europe that people are laughing at me here, and in Italy they have attacked me with this ‘Bunga Bunga’ thing, which is a work of mystification and slander based on nothing . . . ”

Property tax

As I walked around a half-empty Rome yesterday morning, there were PDL posters everywhere reflecting his last desperate attempt to win votes. “Vote Berlusconi, Get Your Property Tax Back.”

For much of this campaign the promise to refund a highly unpopular property tax, IMU, introduced by his successor Prof Mario Monti, has been Berlusconi’s most potent electoral sales weapon.

When it emerged late last week that there might be problems covering the €4 billion hole left by the abolition of the tax, he cheerfully promised to pay the refund out of his own pocket.

The same aforementioned Monti also seems set for disappointment and may do well to get past the 10 per cent mark.

However, given the nature of Italy’s electoral law, PD leader Pierluigi Bersani may have to come looking to Monti for the support of that 10 per cent, especially in the senate, if he is to form a stable majority.

The rocky road lies ahead.