Italian Comedian Wins Votes In Local Elections On Wave Of Discontent

on May 08 2012 5:43 PM
Beppe Grillo
Comic and political activist Beppe Grillo gestures before dumping rotten mussel shells in front of the Parliament in Rome Sept. 10, 2011. REUTERS

As Italy's economy reels from the European debt crisis amid allegations of corrupt politicians, comedian Beppe Grillo has got a plan for his country to get back on track: Default on its debt and dump the euro.

We need to try get out of the euro zone with as little damage as possible. We're getting poorer and Germany is getting richer, Grillo told Reuters recently. If we had the lira, in one night we could write two lines on a piece of paper and devalue by 30 percent, and then we could all start over. As things are now, we can't make it.

Grillo's plan for Italy is, of course, untenable. Defaulting on its debt would send foreign investors running, causing the economy to descend into an even deeper tailspin. Economists say Italy is too large and intertwined with global markets for it to return to its traditional currency, the lira, in a sudden flash.

But Italian voters are not necessarily listening to Grillo for his economic ideas, but rather his expression of discontent with career politicians who are perceived as corrupt and ineffectual in dealing with Italy's economic woes.

Grillo, 63, has ignited a political brush fire with his Five Star Movement (M5S) party, which has taken an anti-establishment approach to big business, banks and political atrophy, while supporting environmental causes and embracing investment in science and technology.

While Grillo did not run for office himself, he took on the role of political kingmaker, fielding candidates for local office in over 900 Italian towns and cities.

The results of the local elections on May 7 and May 8 showed strong support for Grillo's M5S party, with his candidates receiving 14 percent of the vote in Genoa, 9 percent in Verona and 19 percent in Parma, the Guardian reported.

These local elections are being viewed as a testing ground for future viability of the M5S party in upcoming parliamentary elections, which could come as soon as 2013. Grillo has taken the show of support as a good sign.

See you in parliament! Grillo posted on his Twitter account on May 7 after the first wave of results came in.

Grillo's success with the M5S party has drawn the ire of mainstream politicians, some of whom refer to him as a Pied Piper or a demagogue.

We're a political force, Grillo told Reuters. The president does not understand this -- that I'm not a demagogue.

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