Last Monday, for the first time in my memory, nobody celebrated after a general election. No celebration from the Democrats, who were the projected winners but came out sore losers. Nor from the seven million voters (down from 13 million in 2008) who still chose Silvio Berlusconi and then became invisible – almost no one admits to having voted for the disgraced former prime minister. There was not even any celebration from the real winners, the militants and voters of the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Stars? How did Italy end up with a populist party whose name sounds like a luxury hotel chain?). Without securing a parliamentary majority, it is now the leading party in the Camera dei Deputati, and the second in the senate. But, contrary to national tradition, the movement’s supporters did not meet in piazzas, they did not take to the streets honking their car horns, they did not gather outside the party’s headquarters opening bottles of sparkling wine. Beppe Grillo’s movement voters are recession-stricken and don’t find a great deal to celebrate. Also, nobody knows, or much cares, where the party headquarters are actually based.
Out of a sort of desperation, a few militants and many more reporters stood outside the former comedian’s villa on the outskirts of Genoa, while at the Bar del Fico, in central Rome, about 100 Grillini ate pizza and drank house wine. In truth, many supporters, as well as shell-shocked citizens, remained online, posting comments on Grillo’s blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
In short, the quasi-winners did not seem too enthusiastic or hopeful; the losers were puzzled; and the path to a new government remains an enigma. Many Grillo voters already disagree with him and want him to support a minority cabinet with a short-term reform agenda led by a leader from the Democrats. Many former Grillo-haters show sudden admiration for his stamina and his success. However, our economy is not getting any better; but, along with a post-election Grillo hangover, we are at least now having an interesting – if scary – national conversation. No, we’re not Greece. We’re much bigger, and weirder.
In Rome, we are without a prime minister (and pope); and with a president (the very worried Giorgio Napolitano) and a mayor (the much-criticized Gianni Alemanno) in the last weeks of their mandate. There are scarce hopes of political stability in the near future. Everybody saw the Grillo tsunami coming; everybody knew about people of all sorts – mostly impoverished, out of work, underemployed; but also over-educated, experienced and close to the ruling class – who were coming out in support for him. But many kept believing in the pollsters who erroneously predicted a clear if narrow victory of the centre-left coalition.