Italian election dumps country into stalemate

 
Ben Southwood
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ITALY was thrown into political stalemate yesterday as elections delivered a hung upper chamber in the country’s parliament.

Pier Luigi Bersani, whose centre-left coalition won a majority in the lower chamber, has the unenviable task of either bringing maverick anti-establishment figure Beppe Grillo into the fold or forming a unity government with Silvio Berlusconi’s bloc.

Since the upper house has equal say on legislation to the lower chamber, a majority in the Senate is seen to be necessary for a stable government.

Grillo yesterday renewed his promise not to join any formal alliance with the establishment parties. “It’s not time to talk of alliances... the system has already fallen,” Grillo said. But the comedian said he was open to working with anyone on his Five Star Movement’s policy proposals.

And Bersani yesterday suggested he had hopes the party would take up the responsibilities of government now that it was a major force in parliament, suggesting he’d be open to a more policy-by-policy approach.

“They used to tell us to ‘go home’. Now they’re in too. Italy is also their country – let’s see what they want to do for their country,” Bersani said in his first post-election press conference.

Berlusconi also extended feelers, saying he would be open to a deal with the centre-left, though not with current Prime Minister Mario Monti, who replaced the media baron in 2011. “Italy must be governed,” Berlusconi said. “Everyone must be prepared to make sacrifices.”

EU leaders including Eurogroup chair Jeroen Dijsselboem rushed to demand Italy kept with its austerity and reform programme.

And Germany’s economy minister Philip Roesler said: “There is no alternative to the structural reforms that already underway and which include consolidating the budget and boosting competitiveness.”

Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said he was extremely concerned about the impact the Italian election might have on his country, whose yields soared on the news of Italian political gridlock.

PROFILE: ITALY‘S CLOWN PRINCE

Beppe Grillo’s rise to popularity may have been thanks to his joke telling, but his grassroots Italian election campaign winning him a quarter of votes is certainly not a laughing matter for his political opponents.

The clown prince, as he is known in Italian politics, captured the frustrations of voters fed up with corruption, austerity and a miserable economy in his passionate anti-establishment movement.

Born in Genoa, the 64-year-old trained as an accountant before turning to TV comedy in the late 1970s. In 1981 Grillo was sentenced to one year and three months for manslaughter over the death of three people in a road accident. This means Grillo is not actually a candidate for his party – just a so-called guarantor.

He managed to return to a successful career in comedy afterwards, best known for making daring jokes about politicians including the socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, who was later found guilty of corruption charges.

Grillo has successfully levied widespread support via the internet and social networks throughout his campaign. He refuses to appear on TV news channels in a stand against billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who exemplifies the close links between politics and the media in Italy.

His programme may be anathema to Eurocrats – suspending interest payments on the national debt, slashing the working week to 20 hours and gifting free internet to all – but Grillo’s Five Star Movement is now the biggest single party in the lower house, and the second biggest in the senate.

Though the Movement places third when considering the centre-left and centre-right coalition as a whole, Grillo’s grouping remain leagues ahead of current Prime Minister Mario Monti’s centrists, who won a mere 10 per cent of votes.