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Grillo's Dilemma

Three weeks after Italy’s disastrous elections, the political landscape in Rome is still quite nebulous and uncertain. The election of the new Pope has distracted Italians from the stalemate generated by the electoral success of a professional comedian, Beppe Grillo. But now the country is back to its hard reality, patiently waiting for Grillo to solve his existential dilemma: acting as a responsible statesman or behaving as an insolent clown. 

International investors, European technocrats and Italian politicians are all trying to anticipate his next move. But being a comedian-turned-political-leader, his incentives are different from those of a normal politician, his words rarely coincide with his thoughts and his actions are simply unpredictable. Regardless of his decisions, all those concerned with Grillo’s effect on the stability of the Euro or the rise of populism across Europe should not worry. He is just a meteor in the Italian political landscape. 

When an antiestablishment leader enters the political arena, he does not just want to reform or renew the system. He wants to overturn it. Ideally, he would like to gain one hundred percent of the seats in the Parliament to accomplish his radical mission without compromises. In practice, an absolute majority would suffice. Yet, if this second-best scenario is not achievable, then a movement unwilling to negotiate with the old elite would prefer to obtain a limited electoral success. This way, it could act as an opposition force that keeps criticizing the system, without taking any responsibility. 

What happened at the last general election is the worst political outcome Grillo could expect. His Five Stars Movement (5SM) turned out to be the third political force of the country, with 25% of the popular vote. Thanks to these numbers, he has contributed to increase the number of young and female Members of the Parliament. Nevertheless, he is neither strong enough to form an independent government and dictate his own conditions, nor weak enough to ignore his duties and simply attack the elite.