Real danger of stalemate in wake of Italian poll
Puppets of leading Italian politicians (clockwise from top left): Silvio Berlusconi, Pier Luigi Bersani, Beppe Grillo and Mario Monti
If you were to invent a sub-title for this weekend’s Italian general election, it would have to be Six Characters in Search of an Electoral Disaster. In terms of impending chaos, the cast holds promise: Old Fox Berlusconi; Uncomfortable Monti; former Mafia Investigator Ingroia; Gay Activist Vendola; Decent Muddled Man Bersani; and, arguably most interesting of all, former comedian and Anti-System figure, Grillo.For an amateur production at the town hall, they might ensure an entertaining evening. As candidates for the general election in the EU’s fourth largest economy, there is the real danger they may guarantee only confusion, electoral stalemate and a hung parliament.
In the wake of such a result, will the markets then turn on Italy, in the process destablising the euro zone in a manner similar to November 2011 when Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign? We will begin to know on Monday evening – voting ends at 3pm on Monday, after which counting starts. The potentially hung parliament is linked to an absurdly unbalanced electoral law that was designed by Berlusconi’s government back in 2005 to make the Senate almost ungovernable.
Given that the smaller parties of Monti and Ingroia will take votes from the two largest parties, whilst Grillo’s Five Star protest movement will take votes from everyone, a stalemate is clearly possible.
For the last 20 years, the tone of Italian general elections has been set by 76-year-old media tycoon Berlusconi. This time the “Five Star” protest movement led by Beppe Grillo represents the only truly innovative formation.
Amazingly for a first-time general election runner, with a virtual, online, grassroots base and without a single national public figure, Grillo’s movement is set to pick up 20-24 per cent of the national vote. This would make it the third strongest party, behind the probable winners, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Berlusconi’s centre-right People Of Freedom (PDL) party.
Grillo talks the talk, and what is more, he has done so without going on television in a country where eight out of 10 people get their news information from TV. In what has been a peculiarly old-fashioned campaign, with just about everybody bar Grillo prepared to slit their granny’s throat for a bit of prime time TV coverage (but not a TV debate between candidates), the ex-comedian has gone his own way, travelling the peninsula in a camper van.
A skilled, high-decibel orator, Grillo tends to howl that “they” (mainstream political forces) have ruined the country and it is now time to get rid of them: “Send them home,” he says, at rally after rally.
In a country where a teacher’s initial salary is €1,136 per month and where one in 10 pensioners is paid less than €500 per month, Grillo touches a raw nerve when he points out that the average deputy’s salary is €20,000 per month.
Grillo’s “populist” proposals include the introduction of the dole, more incentives for solar panels, cuts to the privileges of the political “caste” and abandoning controversial projects like the TAV high-speed railway line linking Italy to France and the forever promised Messina Strait bridge in Sicily.