One doesn’t need to be fluent in Italian to understand the post-election headlines across Italy: ingovernabilita, nervosismo, miracolo Berlusconi. Italians woke up on Tuesday morning to see their worst fears realized: the country’s first-ever hung parliament. Essentially, no one has enough support to lead the country out of its dire troubles. After a bitter campaign, Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left coalition narrowly won in the lower house of parliament and will benefit by an automatic winner’s bonus of 54 percent of the house seats, but he barely eked out a win in the Italian senate, where it counts. There, the divisions are based on regions, and his win does not translate to a majority. His chief nemesis, Silvio Berlusconi, who rose from the ashes of a scandalous resignation in November 2011, was able to steer his center-right coalition to within a hair of the majority, but with no willing partners to help him reach the threshold. The big winner of these elections was Beppe Grillo, a comedian who captured the essence of Italy’s disgruntled set and has effectively become the kingmaker in both houses. His platform, which includes holding a referendum on Italy’s continuation in the euro and rethinking its involvement in military operations abroad, including logistical support in Mali, is seen as welcome change by many disgruntled Italian voters, especially the young and newly unemployed. Grillo refused to do any campaigning on Italian television and focused instead on new media, utilizing his popular blog, Facebook, and Twitter to rabble rouse.
The clear loser in these elections was Mario Monti, Italy’s most recent leader, who traded his technocrat hat for that of a politician, with miserable results. He took a calculated risk entering the quagmire of Italian politics and it backfired. Now he looks ready for the political sidelines.
No matter how one moves the puzzle pieces around, Italy has now been plunged into undeniable chaos. The options going forward are complicated and dependent on what seem like impossible sacrifices on the part of the winners and losers. But even if everyone plays nicely going forward, there is little that can be done now short of holding another ballot or forming a grand coalition that would make herding cats look easy.
On Tuesday, party leaders held emergency meetings throughout the day, and largely avoided the media—with the exception of Grillo, who was suddenly more than happy to talk to the Italian press to tout his victory. The rest started what is expected to be a long process of consultations. By some estimates, it could take three weeks to fully understand what is going to happen next.