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Italy: Grillo's Party Takes the Lead in Political Stalemate

[All links point to Italian reources unless otherwise indicated]

At the general elections on 24-25 February, the MoVimento 5 Stelle (M5S), founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009 in Florence, won 109 seats out of 630 in the Parliament in their first electoral campaign, making them the party with the most seats. In addition they won 54 seats out of 315 in the Senate. It was a surprise as, barely a month earlier, polls were predicting that M5S would win 18% of parliament seats and 12.1% of the seats in the Senate. As has by now been noted, social media has played an influential role in the success of M5S, leading to the election of many young parliamentarians, making for one of the youngest parliaments in Europe.

Beppe Grillo, the comedian who's blocking Italian politics. Photo on Flickr by Jagen, via

Beppe Grillo, the comedian who's causing a stalemate in Italian politics. Photo from Flickr  by Jaqen, via

Who voted M5S?

Drawing on a recently published collection of perspectives (Il Partito di Grillo, Il Mulino), Gabriele Ainis explained on his blog:

 ….M5S nasce come espressione di una sinistra ecologista e libertaria, che si aggregano movimenti vari e variegati – prima di tutto nell’area dell’ambientalismo, ma anche legati a istanze puramente locali, sussecutivamente [successivamente?] integrate e ampliate dal gruppo. Finché diventa un attrattore valido anche per la destra una volta che venga cavalcata l’istanza “antisistema” (se ci si intende sul termine, naturalmente, tanto per esser chiari il “mandiamoli tutti a casa”.

…M5S was the fruit of an environmentalist and libertarian left-wing movement, which then combined with various and varied movements – mainly concentrated on environmental cause but also those linked to very local causes – and which were successively integrated into, and expanded upon by, the group.  It became attractive to those on the right as well once it came out of its “anti-system” phase (just so we're all in agreement on the terms, naturally this refers to “mandiamoli tutti a casa”)[Transl. note: mandiamoli tutti a casa [send them all home] was M5S electoral slogan].

Who did they vote for before?


According to several sources, the former political allegiances of those who voted for the “grillini” seem to be fairly varied. Commenting on a post by Elisa Gianni suggesting a shift from the Partito Democratico (PD) [en, Lega Nord [en] and the IDV (Italia Dei Valori) [en], reader Gianni Armani, writes that:

Il boom della lista ispirata da Beppe Grillo è stato alimentato per il 30% da elettori che alle europee del 2009 avevano scelto il centrosinistra (Pd, Idv e altri) e per il 27% da elettori che avevano scelto il centrodestra (Pdl, Lega e altri). Per Grillo il bacino più grande resta comunque quello dell’astensione, pari al 37% dei suoi consensi, cioè un esercito di oltre tre milioni di persone. Gli altri partiti al di fuori delle coalizioni principali contano soltanto per il 6%. In dettaglio, il Movimento 5 Stelle ha preso l’11% dal Pd, il 12% dall’Idv, 7% da altri. Dal blocco di centrodestra, il 18% dei consensi grillini è arrivato dal Pdl, l’8% dalla Lega, l’1% da altri.”
A chi credere?

Of the voters who fueled the election success inspired by Beppe Grillo, 30% voted for centre-left candidates (PD, IDV and others) and 27% voted centre-right (PDL, Lega Nord and others) at the 2009 European elections. For Grillo it was non-voters who made the greatest difference, making up 37% of his supporters, an army more than 3 million strong. The other parties outside of the main blocks only accounted for 6%. To break it down, the Movimento 5 Stelle, took 11% of their votes from the PD, 12% from the IDV, 12% from other [left-wing] parties. From the centre-right block, 18% of support for Grillo came from PDL voters, 8% from Lega [Nord], 1% from others. Who to believe?

Where did M5S have the greatest success?

The party's success was spread evenly throughout Italy, with a peak of 53.17% of the votes cast in the district of Exilles in Alta Val di Susa, where “No TAV” protests rumble on. On a regional level, M5S registered percentages close to or exceeding 33% in Liguria (32.1%), in Sardinia (33.7%), in Marche (32.1%) and in Sicily (32.7%).

Why did people vote for M5S?

The reasons behind the surge of support for M5S seem to be similar to those behind the support of thousands of young people for the Occupy movement — with the addition, of course, of a little something typically Italian. A few examples follow.

Lack of faith in institutions

On the blog the damning judgement is that:

Nessuno si salva: le istituzioni italiane non convincono più; neanche il Quirinale che da sempre ha rappresentato assieme al suo esponente Giorgio Napolitano, un modello esemplare di costante garanzia per gli italiani. Nelle anticipazioni del “Rapporto Italia” che l’Eurispes presenterà il prossimo 31 di gennaio, il dato che emerge è chiaro: rispetto alle percentuali registrate lo scorso anno, il calo è brusco sia per il Capo dello stato che per il Vaticano.

Nobody is immune: Italian institutions are not fooling anyone any more; not even the Quirinale [Presidential Palace] which, along with the current occupant, Giorgio Napolitano, has always represented a model example of constant reassurance for Italians. The data which emerges ahead of the “Rapporto Italia” [Italy Report] that [the political institute] Eurispes will release on the 31st of January next year, is clear: with respect to the percentages registered last year, the fall from grace has been as severe for the Head of State as for the Vatican.

Parachuting in candidates.

In the comments on the site, Luciano writes:

Giusto l’analisi fatta , e come accennai ad un Amico del PD di Settimo ante votazione; la perdita era prevista in quanto il Bersani ha paracadutato gente che non ha niente a che fare con la realta’ locale ed ha immesso in lista presone come la Bindi con gia’ troppi mandati alle spalle ! Per cui la colpa non puo’ e non deve andare alle sezioni LOCALI !

The analysis that has been made is correct, and, as a friend of the PD from Settimo alluded to before the election took place, the loss could have be predicted in light of the fact that Bersani parachuted in people who have nothing to do with the local reality and included people like Bindi [Rosy Bindi [en], first elected in 1989] in the list, who already have way too many election campaigns behind them! For which the LOCAL branches of the parties cannot and should not be blamed!

An establishment which is eating itself.

In October 2012, on the blog, Marianna De Palma calls to mind the sad Italian reality that:

A deliberare sulla legge anticorruzione – pare in arrivo – anche 100 parlamentari imputati, condannati o prescritti. E’ normale per gli Italiani avere parlamentari del genere?

Among those debating the anti-corruption law – which appears to be on its way in – are 100 parliamentarians who have been indicted, convicted or have been acquitted due to the statute of limitations running out on their cases. Is it normal for Italians to have this kind of parliamentarians?

As Carmine Gazzanni notes on the blog

Figli, mogli, mariti, nipoti. Scorrendo i nomi dei candidati (alcuni ufficiali, altri ufficiosi) per le politiche, si rimane increduli vista la mole di parenti di ex deputati presenti. Spesso c’è proprio una sostituzione: esce padre, entra figlio.

Children, wives, husbands, grandchildren. Looking through the names of the candidates (some official, some off-the-record) for the elections, the number of relatives of ex-deputies included is unbelievable. Often it's a direct substitution: the father leaves and the son enters.

An armchair gerontocracy.

In September 2012, luna_rossa commented on the site

Nel Parlamento ad esempio l'età media dei deputati è 54 anni e quella dei senatori e 57, e anche nelle università, dove si suppone dovrebbero avere più spazio i giovani, l'età media dei professori viaggia intorno ai 63 anni.

The average age of deputies in the Parliament, for example, is 54 and that of senators is 57, and, even in universities, where you would imagine there would be more space for young people, the average age of professors is around 63.

An analysis by the IDV Senator, Stefano Pedica, only serves to reinforce this:

Ci sono persone – fa notare Pedica – che siedono in Parlamento da decenni. Un lungo elenco di persone che vantano da un minimo di 16 anni a un massimo di quasi 40 anni di presenze alla Camera e al Senato.

There are those, as Pedica points out, who have been sitting in Parliament for decades. A long list of individuals who boast from a minimum of 16 years up to a maximum of almost forty years’ presence in the Parliament and Senate.

Logo del Movimento 5 Stelle

Logo del Movimento 5 Stelle

It is, however, true that Grillo's troops have brought a massive infusion of youthful blood to the Parliament, as is stressed on their Facebook page:

 Lo Tsunami che ha travolto la politica italiana ha spazzato via uno tra i Parlamenti più vecchi d'Europa (55 anni di media) restituendo i parlimentari più giovani di tutto il mondo occidentale e dell'intera storia della Repubblica. L'età media, tra Camera e Senato, è di 48 anni, più bassa rispetto non solo a quella dei paesi dell'UE, ma anche a quella degli Stati Uniti, tutti con un'età media di oltre 50 anni. …Quello del MoVimento 5 Stelle è anche il gruppo con la maggiore percentuale di laureati: l'88%, in coda alla classifica il pd con il 67% e la lega con il 40%.

The tsunami which has swept over Italian politics has swept away one of the oldest Parliaments in Europe (average age 55) and resulted in the youngest parliament in the Western world, and in all of Italian history. The combined average age of Parliament and Senate is 48, not only lower than that of [other] European Union countries, but also lower than that of the US, all of whom have an average age is over 50… The deputies from the MoVimento 5 Stelle are also the group with the highest percentage of graduates, 88% compared to the PDs with 67% and Lega (Nord) with 40%.

The political ethics of M5S and the institutional stalemate

The elected representatives of M5S must, however, conform to the Code of Conduct they each signed up to with Grillo, which sets out, among other things:

La costituzione di due “gruppi di comunicazione”, uno per la Camera e uno per il Senato, sarà definita da Beppe Grillo in termini di organizzazione, strumenti e di scelta dei membri, al duplice fine di garantire una gestione professionale e coordinata di detta attività di comunicazione, nonchè di evitare una dispersione delle risorse per ciò disponibili. Ogni gruppo avrà un coordinatore con il compito di relazionarsi con il sito nazionale del M5S e con il blog di Beppe Grillo.

The constitution of two “communication groups”, one for Parliament and one for the Senate, to be defined by Beppe Grillo in terms of organisation, tools and choice of members, in order to guarantee professional and coordinated management of the said communication activity, and to avoid thining out the resources available for this end. Each group will have a coordinator whose job will be to keep M5S's national site and Beppe Grillo's blog up to date.

M5S deputies must also obey external orders: Beppe Grillo was not formally present on any ballot paper and, therefore, finds himself outside of the institutional structures. Even worse, he refuses to respond to the questions that so many Italians (and foreign observers) are asking, refuses any collaboration with the other political powers and insists on the fact that thoughts of the elections “should not leave anyone indifferent”. In fact, the candidate declared in ‘an interview with Lucio Cristino on YouTube that:

Puntiamo al 100 per cento – dice – poi sciogliamo il movimento. E si autoaccusa: “terrorista, populista” per dire che noi “non siamo come loro, noi non facciamo politica”…

We're aiming at 100% – he says – then we will dissolve the movement. And he accuses himself of being: a “terrorist, populist” for saying that “we are not like them, we don't do politics”…

This explains why Grillo wants to abolish Article 167 of the Constitution which declares that every member of the Parliament represents the Nation and exercises the two functions without being bound by any mandate. Justifiably, many people are asking what role Gianroberto Casaleggio, the “guru” who seems to be behind the entire MoVimento, has played. In a video investigation on Youtube, Antonio Amorosi notes that:

Potere, soldi e tecniche di manipolazione aziendale dentro il MoVimento 5 Stelle

. E’ Casaleggio che comanda, sostengono tutti gli attivisti espulsi. Ma del passato del “guru” di Grillo si sa ben poco.

Power, money and business manipulation techniques in the MoVimento 5 Stelle. Casaleggio is the one in charge, say all the expelled activists. But very little is known about the past of Grillo's “guru”…

Given the current political and institutional stalemate, in addition to the “”usual” social and economic chaos, we finally have to ask ourselves: just when will Italians (and outside observers) get clear answers to the many questions that the successes of Grillo & Co. raise?


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