Italy's anti-politician on the verge of election sensation

Hopes of a stable coalition emerging after today's vote have been upset by emergence of the comic turned would-be leader

As Italians vote today and tomorrow in one of the most unpredictable general elections in the nation's history, Europe looks on with fingers crossed, hoping that a prudent and functional coalition will emerge from the ballot box.The chances are not great.

The nightmare prospect that Silvio Berlusconi might return to power yet again has receded in recent weeks. He is still hugely popular, and his Freedom People party was in second place when the last opinion polls were published before the ban on polling came into effect a fortnight ago.

But his comeback has been put in the shade by the mercurial ascent of an equally magnetic and controversial figure: Beppe Grillo, a charismatic 64-year-old comedian from Genoa whose anti-political non-party, the Five-Star Movement, has come roaring from behind in recent weeks and may have taken over the number two slot, with one in five Italians said to be planning to vote for his mostly young, untried and unknown candidates. The likely presence in the next parliament of 100 or more "Grillini" puts a large question mark over the stability of any possible alliance.

With Pope Benedict XVI about to retire, President Giorgio Napolitano weeks away from the end of his seven-year term and the Prime Minister, Mario Monti, a lame-duck caretaker, Italy is entering a phase of dramatic uncertainty.

Into that vacuum has rushed the ranting, foul-mouthed, tousle-haired figure of Mr Grillo, an accountant before he became a cult comedian, whose final rally of his so-called "Tsunami Tour" of the country on Friday filled Rome's Piazza San Giovanni is said to have attracted 800,000 supporters.

Mr Grillo's simple and hugely popular argument is that Italian politics of both left and right is rotten to the core and the nation's only hope is to sack all professional politicians – "tutti a casa!" roared the Rome crowd, "send them all home!" – and replace them with honest, well-intentioned Italians who will resist the temptations of power and set their country on the road back to sanity.

"From every point of view, political, economic, social, the [politicians] are failures," he roared to the crowd in Rome. "And now something starts. We will no longer have to see ordinary people suffering and those on TV with their dickhead faces. They must all go home!"

But behind the simple rhetoric lies a sophisticated campaign in which Mr Grillo turned his back on all conventional media, refusing to be interviewed on TV or in newspapers, building a huge support base on the net with his popular blog. Masterminded by the movement's co-founder, Gianroberto Casaleggio, the approach is as original as Mr Berlusconi's was 20 years ago.

"It is extraordinary the sort of unlikely people who say they will vote for Grillo," commented James Walston, of the American University of Rome. "The majority are younger disillusioned left-wing voters but there are a good number of older ex-Berlusconi people. Once again Italy has invented a new form of politics."

Until Mr Grillo burst upon the scene, the post-election scenario that many outside Italy were praying for was that Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition would win a majority in the lower house, while the centrists clustered around Mr Monti might take the upper, which is decided region by region. Talk of a coalition has been discouraged during the campaign, but it was believed they could forge an alliance strong enough to weather the immediate economic storms facing the country.

Mr Bersani, a former Communist, is the latest lacklustre figure trying to wave the left's old banner without frightening the horses. But Mr Monti, whose translation from grim-faced technocrat to beaming candidate has lost him fans – many say he is now "just another politician" – is said to have been losing support drastically, so that all the plotting may turn out to have been in vain.

It is the essence of Mr Grillo's appeal that he refuses to discuss cutting deals with anybody: for his supporters, that's the bad old days. Instead he scatters ripe insults over rival leaders like confetti: Mr Berlusconi is the "psycho dwarf", Nichi Vendola, leader of Left, Liberty and Ecology, is "a hole without a doughnut", Mr Monti is "Rigor Montis".

It's knockabout stuff that has delighted crowds the length of the country. How it will translate into the gritty work of governance is anybody's guess.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests