Italy's Grillo convinced of EU elections win despite voting reform plans


Beppe Grillo, the former comic who leads Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, on Thursday (23 January) hit out against plans to reform the country's voting rules, describing them as tailor-made to block his party's rise, but that will not prevent him from winning the European elections, he said.

"The only point of this electoral reform proposal is to block us because we are the danger to the system," Grillo, whose party won a quarter of the vote at last year's national election, told a gathering of the foreign press in Rome.

The centre-left's dynamic new leader Matteo Renzi this week drew up a plan to change the voting rules blamed for Italy's chronic political instability after reaching a widely contested deal with centre-right leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The 5-Star Movement, which espouses an eclectic mix of green and anti-establishment policies and wants a referendum on Italy's euro membership, has stayed in opposition since the February 2013 vote and refuses to collaborate with the left-right coalition government.

Grillo dismissed Renzi, who is likely to lead the centre-left Democratic Party into the next election as its candidate for prime minister, as a "cartoon character".

He said the pact with Berlusconi, who is barred from parliament after a tax fraud conviction, was a stitch-up between parties that only pretend to be adversaries.

"What kind of country is this? You can't reform the electoral law in some night-time deal between a criminal and a cartoon character, you have to do it in parliament," Grillo said in his usual caustic tones.

"Renzi and Berlusconi are the same thing, they are interchangeable, they represent the same interests," he said.

Grillo expressed confidence that the deal which the Chamber of Deputies will start debating next week will not be approved, partly because it includes the abolition of the upper house Senate as an elected chamber.

"Can you imagine all these senators voting to abolish themselves in secret votes?" he quipped.

The electoral reform proposed by Renzi and Berlusconi offers a large winner's bonus of seats to the largest grouping and would therefore penalise Grillo's movement, which rejects alliances with either of the two main blocs.

After consulting its members online, 5-Star is pushing for an electoral system based on proportional representation, without the winner's bonuses envisaged by both the present system and reform plan.

Remain Italy's largest party?

The 5-Star Movement has fallen out of the limelight since it shot to success at last February's vote, but it retains a sizeable core of support and remains a potential key player.

It has few friends in the domestic media, which Grillo called "the real cancer of our system," and as a purely opposition force it has had no direct impact on government policy. It has also fared badly in several local elections.

However, according to opinion polls it still gets around 20% support.

"We may still be Italy's largest party," Grillo said, adding that he expected a major success at elections for the European Parliament in May where a vote for 5-Star will enable Italians to show their dissent with European austerity policies.

"I am telling you now that we will win the European elections," he shouted to the packed news conference.

Centre-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta has warned of a likely strong showing for 5-Star at the European elections unless Italy can revive its stagnant economy and persuade Europe to adopt a more growth-friendly agenda.

Despite a typically spirited performance during a nearly three-hour news conference, Grillo, 65, showed some signs of battle fatigue as he defended his policy of uncompromising non-collaboration with the mainstream parties.

"We can't do deals with these cheats and hypocrites," he said. "But if at the end of the day the Italians want to vote for swindlers, then we'll just have to live with the swindlers and I'll be happy to go and do something else." 



Mike Parr's picture

The usual suspects don't like "democracy" it produces awkward customers like Grillo & his party - hence the moves to sideline them - get things "back to normal" at which point disillusioned he (& his party) will disappear and Italy will move back to the status quo ante which produces such things as the appalling pollution around Naples caused by the mafia dumping industrial waste (from the north).

You see the same in other EU member states - the Kippers in the UK may be nutters - but they are an expression (symptom?) of widely held grievances with respect to a lack of democracy at all levels.

Mike Parr's picture

Emanuele, interesting comments - but my observation regarding grievances & a lack of connect between politicos and citizens stands. Grillo is one outcome of this disconnect. the Kippers in the Uk are another.

Two weeks ago a Tory-vermin MP in the UK called the police when 12 citizens went to his offices to hand in a petition (one of them was 81 years old - so we are not talking about a raging mob here).

Perhaps you have stories from Italy that reflect a similar disconnect? (which in my view takes the form - "give me your vote and afterwards just fuck-off" - in my view the attitude of many/most/all politicos regardless of party. In the Internet age we should be able to have more citizen participation - however, that does not suit "the usual suspects" - they want voters passive - Grillo taps into the frustration arising from that.

Emanuele's picture

Ah, and by the way the electoral law was NOT reformed in "some night-time deal".
Matteo Renzi (PD) won the party internal elections with a clear and public proposal for an electoral law deal.
After winning, he immediately opened to ALL other parties saying "we won't change the electoral law with just the parliament majority, we want to discuss with everybody who wants to sit around a table".
As you can imagine, Grillo started shouting and insulting, because they will never discuss anything with anybody. They know what it is right, and others should comply.
On the contrary, Berlusconi's Forza Italia agreed on starting negotiations, and the result is (for the moment) just a deal between parties covering c.a. 70% of Italian electorate. Basically everybody except Grillo.
Now, to transform a deal into a law is a tricky process of course...

Emanuele's picture

Mike, yes now I understand better your point and I agree completely.
Classic politicians are too detached, but that doesn't make them necessarly bad persons.
Especially in a challenging period like this one, a politician should set visions and do things for the long period, that in most cases make them unpopular.
Unfortunately, another great Italian comedian (Benigni) once said:
"the population always choose Barabba"

Emanuele's picture

Just a clarification, because I don't want to give the impression that I am un-democratic.
The problem of the current period is that bad information spread much faster, and to a wider audience, than good information.
This is a terrible risk for democracy, because it is way easier for frustrated people to form their political opinion reading chaotic blogs like Grillo's, rather than going directly to a reliable source.
"repeat a lie 1000 times, and it becomes reality" is again of terrible actuality.