Italian voters snubbed the old guard and no clear winner emerged from the fray, even though a protest movement did capitalize on voters turning their backs on the ruling class. Now, could new elections be on the cards?
Italian newspapers, more or less, came to the same conclusion on the morning after the country's parliamentary election: "Italy is ungovernable."
Most TV channels ran non-stop analyses, panel discussions and interviews with politicians. Reporters and talk show hosts fairly flipped out when it became evident that Beppe Grillo's 5 Star Movement was to be Italy's strongest single party, with Pier Luigi Bersani's Social Democrats and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition trailing behind.
In effect, Beppe Grillo can now block both in the senate, Italy's upper house of parliament, since neither the center-left nor the former Italian premier's conservative coalition have a workable majority. In a phone interview Monday night, comic-turned-political leader Grillo announced he would keep the established parties on tenterhooks, adding that coalitions with any of them were out of the question.
"In case of new elections, we will win a majority in parliament," a confident Grillo told La Stampa newspaper. The Grillinis, as Beppe Grillo's supporters are called, have reason to celebrate, says Lutz Klinkhammer of the German Historic Institute in Rome.
"Clearly, Grillo and his Five Star Movement are the winners of the election," Klinkhammer told Deutsche Welle. He practically skyrocketed to becoming the strongest party in the country, Klinkhammer added. "That is a sensation, if not a mini revolution."
The center-left alliance that won a narrow victory in the lower house of parliament, barely ahead of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition, was flabbergasted.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, is scheduled to hold talks with all party leaders to ascertain who has the best chances of forming a government. There is only a slim chance for a government led by Bersani, Klinkhammer says, adding a grand coalition is not feasible, either, as Bersani and Berlusconi are not likely to sit down at the same table.
A new technocratic government is much more likely, the Rome-based political scientist says; there would be a change in voting legislation and new elections maybe a year from now.
The strong showing by the Five Star Movement indicates that Italians want fundamental change, including an end to the economic crisis: "People expect an end to corruption and cronyism. In Beppe Grillo's words: Italians are fed up," Lutz Klinkhammer says.
A shock for Monti
A less stable, but nonetheless possible, solution is the formation of a Social Democratic minority government tolerated by Beppe Grillo in the senate. A similiar model exists in Sicily.
Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose tough austerity approach was clearly rejected by the electorate, was stunned. "Somehow, we have to deal with this new entity," he told a news conference, referring to Grillo's movement. Grillo is opposed to Monti's policies of austerity, budget consolidation and debt reduction - as is Berlusconi. Add the other euroskeptic parties to conclude that two out of three Italians disagree with European policies aimed at saving the euro.
Italians simply want an end to the recession and high unemployment in the country, Lutz Klinkhammer says. "The euro no longer plays a role in Italian domestic policies."
Do not interfere
The only one to worry about reaction across Europe and the financial markets is Mario Monti. On Tuesday (26.02.2013), a day after the election concluded, he met with his finance minister and the head of Italy's central bank to discuss the widening of the interest rate spread and what that means for the crisis in the eurozone.
"The election results will undoubtedly make the situation in the eurozone even more difficult. It might even strain the relationship between Rome and Berlin," says Vincenzo Scarpetta of the Open Europe think tank. Pursuing the reform course will be much more difficult now in the Italian government, the political analyst said. "Italy is certain to refuse stricter EU control."
A warning by European Parliament President Martin Schulz that Italy had produced what amounted to a difficult result for Europe fell flat in Rome. Italy, too, would like a stable government, the RAI state television presenter commented after reading the news item from Brussels: "But how?"