He's the "enfant terrible" of Italian politics, whose one-liners made headlines throughout the election campaign. Beppe Grillo could end up as the kingmaker of Italian politics - it's a role he says doesn't interest him.
They're called the "Grillini," or "the little Grillos," and it does seem as though Beppe Grillo has become a father figure to many of his supporters. Across the nation's piazzas, he has been expressing the Grillinis' anger and their disdain for the political establishment - sentiments shared by many Italians after the country's many political scandals over the past few years. And Grillo has successfully used the Internet to create direct and unfiltered communication with voters.
Grillo, who became famous in Italy as an actor and satirist, has been a late arrival to politics. The 64-year-old founded his party, the Five Star Movement, in 2009, though in 2007 he had already inaugurated his "Vaffa day" ("F--- Off day"), which brought tens of thousands of people out in the streets to protest against the country's leaders. He now manages one of the most successful political blogs in Italy, and boasts nearly a million Twitter followers.
Third biggest party
To top it off, this week the Five Star Movement (M5S) became the third strongest political force in the country, and as not coalition has a majority of its own across both houses of parliament it seems impossible that a government can be formed without at least its tacit approval.
An alliance between the two strongest political powers, the center-left alliance of Pier Luigi Bersani and the center-right alliance of Silvio Berlusconi, seems impossible. But Grillo wrote in his blog on Wednesday, "The M5S is not going to give a vote of confidence to the Democratic Party or to anyone else."
Grillo went on to say that Bersani's party had made a series of "indecent proposals." The comment came after initial comments from Grillo after the election that his party would "support ideas that agree with ours, from one law to the next."
Despite his claims otherwise, there are some overlaps between Bersani's Partito Democratico (PD) and the Five Star Movement.
"Beppe Grillo entered politics on the back of his personal conflict with Silvio Berlusconi," says Roman Maruhn, of the Goethe Institute in Palermo. "That is his fundamental motivation, which is also something that the Partito Democratico can subscribe to. There is a common interest there."
But at the same time, Grillo and Bersani do not see eye-to-eye on a personal level. For Grillo, Bersani is part of Italy's political elite and is partly responsible for the politics of the past few years. For his part, Luca Verzichelli, a political scientist at the University of Siena, described an alliance between the two as "Mission Impossible."
Should Wednesday's overtures simply be a part of party negotiations and the two politicians eventually manage to overcome their differences, they would be able to develop a common strategy on some important points, Verzichelli said.
"Introduce a new electoral system, stabilize the economy, act against cartels and reducing public expenditures, especially gratuities for politicians, could be common projects," he said. But that's about it."
A second Berlusconi?
Berlusconi remains Grillo's biggest enemy. Despite the antipathy, the two also share some views. The alliances they lead are both strongly focused on one person. Both use crude language, and are considered populists skilled at animating the masses. And both managed to put a newly established political movement straight into parliament.
But the Goethe Institute's Maruhn said he does not believe the comparison can be carried much further.
"As far as anyone knows, Grillo behaves well to women," he said. "And as far as we know he has a normal private life." And politically, of course, Grillo represents a reaction to Berlusconi that is more likely to find supporters on the center-left.
International reaction to the outcome of elections in Italy has been a mix of shock and uncertainty.
Germany's Peer Steinbrück, who is running to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel in a September election, referred to both Grillo and Berlusconi on Tuesdays saying he was "appalled that two clowns won" the Italian poll.
Italy saw its borrowing costs increase on Wednesday and the credit rating agency Moody's also said it might downgrade Italy, adding that the vote "increases the risk of political paralysis and prolongs political uncertainty."
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