Comic’s protest movement shakes up Italy election

Beppe Grillo wrapped up his “Tsunami Tour” on Friday with a rally on the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome.
Ettore Ferrari/EPA
Beppe Grillo wrapped up his “Tsunami Tour” on Friday with a rally on the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome.

MILAN — The burly man with a shock of silver curls and a scruffy beard gesticulates wildly on Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, unleashing a sprawling diatribe against the political establishment.

‘‘Send them home, send them home!’’ Beppe Grillo cries as tens of thousands of supporters send up a deafening cheer.

Crisis-hit Italians are fed up. And no one is tapping that vein of outrage better than comic-turned-political agitator Grillo and his antiestablishment 5 Star Movement.


Grillo fills piazzas from Palermo deep in the south to Verona up north with Italians who seem to get some catharsis from his rants against the politicians who drove the country to the brink of financial ruin, the captains of industry whose alleged illegal shenanigans are tarnishing prized companies — and the bankers who aided and abetted both.

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Grillo’s campaign is significant not only because he shows strong chances of being the third — some project even the second — party in Parliament after the Sunday and Monday vote.

The 5 Star Movement is the strongest protest party ever seen in Italy, creating a fluid and unpredictable electorate at a time when the nation needs a clear direction to fight its economic woes.

A strong election showing for Grillo could hinder coalition-building efforts among mainstream parties, leading to a period of political paralysis.

‘‘Grillo cannot be underestimated,’’ said Renato Mannheimer, one of Italy’s most respected pollsters. ‘‘He is very important.’’


‘‘More than protest, Grillo is an expression of disappointment in this political class.

The most recent polls of voter sentiment show Grillo in third place, with 17 percent of the vote, behind Pier Luigi Bersani, the center left candidate for premier, who enjoys 33 percent of the vote and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition with the Northern League in second with 28 percent. Premier Mario Monti’s centrist coalition is preferred by 13 percent of voters in the COESIS poll of 6,212 respondents, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percent.

Critics say that Grillo is good at tapping into voter anger — getting to the heart of everything that’s wrong with the ruling class — but has few constructive ideas of his own for helping Italy emerge from crisis.