Italy at the Polls: Is Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement Undemocratic or Revolutionary?
By Umberto Bacchi | February 23, 2013 5:16 AM EST
Italy's political order has been hit by a hairy "Tsunami" that is poised to shake up the Parliamentary equilibrium with an unknown outcome.
Just days before the country votes on its next government, some polls say former comedian Beppe Grillo is now leading Italy's second-largest party - even if the 64-year-old Genovese insists the word party doesn't apply to his Five Star Movement.
Co-founded and shaped by a 58-year-old guru, Gianroberto Casaleggio, who professes the future birth of an internet-based world government named Gaia at the end of a 20-year third world war, Grillo's Five Star Movement is a mix of strong ideals, rage and question marks.
The Five Star Movement is currently holding between 15 and 20 percent of preferences and is set to win more than 100 seats in the Italian Parliament.
The result is almost unprecedented for a political formation at its first national ballots.
Only Silvio Berlusconi did better in 1994, eventually getting elected PM and starting his two-decade dominance of the Italian political scene.
Berlusconi success was based on the ashes of Italy's First Republic that was wiped away by criminal investigations - the 1992 Tangentopoli corruption scandal - and the wave of outrage that sprang from it.
Similarly, Grillo has built his political fortune on battles against Italy's current establishment and corrupt political system, which he himself intends to tear down.
"Give yourselves up! You are surrounded by the people of Italy. Come out with your hands up! No one will touch you. Your time is up," Grillo wrote on his blog - the most popular in Italy - addressing his political opponents.
Grillo's past career as a stand-up comedian has helped him to galvanise the masses by using plain, straightforward language.
In 2007 he launched a political initiative named V-Day or "Vaffanculo-Day" to tell politicians to literally "F*** off."
He dubs Berlusconi a 'psycho dwarf', PM Mario Monti, 'rigor montis' and PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani a 'zombie', and has pledged not to strike a governing alliance with any other party.
The Five Star Movement implements a strict non-candidacy policy excluding people who have been indicted. Grillo himself is not standing for election owing to a manslaughter conviction for the killing of three people in a car crash in 1980.
Grillo has also repudiated anyone who has previously stood for election - so all the candidates are freshmen unknown to the political scene - and supports cuts to the cost of politics to prevent public money being wasted.
The movement has run a low-cost, primarily online electoral campaign, and pledged to give back public funds granted as election contributions.
Grillo's political manifesto also includes a miscellaneous list of proposals, such as free internet broadband for all, subsidies for renewable energies, abolition of stock options and an end to the construction of a high-speed rail link connecting Turin and Lyon.
Critics say Grillo's policies are populist, vague and impractical.
"He expresses intolerance towards traditional politics," said Monti, "but I can't see how he plans to turn the protest into actual proposals to better Italy."
Grillo is also often accused of being an authoritarian, undemocratic leader, allergic to debate and journalists' questions.
Earlier this week, he refused a much-awaited live interview with Sky at the last second, saying he prefers to campaign in the Italian squares than on TV since "politicians going on television are ridiculous and must be sent home."
"Grillo refused to be interviewed on TV because there they have to ask you some questions," commented Bersani.
Attendance at the last rally of Grillo's "Tsunami Tour", in Rome, has been prohibited to Italian journalists by the Five Star Movement, with only foreign press allowed in.
Five Stars candidates have been also banned by party rules from giving interviews.
In December two members of the Movement were kicked out of it after having accused Grillo and co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio of being undemocratic.
"Don't get on my nerves with democracy," Grillo said then. "We are at war until the vote. As long as war is brought to me by newspapers, TVs and true enemies, it is alright, but I don't want internal fights. If someone believes I am undemocratic he has to get out of the bloody way [Sic]"
"There is no democracy; I decide everything. I'm a democratic dictator," Grillo later added.
"Dissent is unconceivable within the Movement. Paradoxically all the other parties, despite the mess they have created in the country, are easier to be held accountable by citizens than Grillo and Casaleggio," purged member Federica Salsi told Affari Italiani.
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