Elections have consequences, and people get the leaders they deserve. Those Italians who insist on re-electing the clownish SilvioBerlusconi despite the ruin and shame he’s brought to Italy - and those Italians who decided they would rather see political anarchy by voting for a comedian who will not even sit in the parliament – will get the future they deserve. The problem is that because of the Eurozone debt crisis, we are all going to get the future they deserve.
Those outside Italy have long been baffled at how such a sizable portion of the Italian population could still support Berlusconi after the corruption allegations, Bunga Bunga parties, dalliances with underage Moroccan prostitutes and – most consequentially – the disastrous handling of the Italian economy. But what is newly shocking is the other surprise winner of this election – an anti-establishment comedian. The fact that so many Italians would vote for what is essentially an anarchist party, led by a comedian who does not even intend to take a seat in the Italian parliament, has rattled the world today.
The Beppe bomb
M5S is not unlike the Tea Party in America – a vague expression of anti-establishment rage with no actual agenda or governing philosophy. But the comparison only goes so far. The Tea Party Republicans are a faction within a mainstream party, and they actually take their seats in the congress. Grillo has refused to join forces with any other party and will not even participate in the parliament.
That string of events may have started today. In the wake of the election result yesterday, shares in Italy’s main stock market index have fallen almost 5% today. Italian banks, which hold large parts of Italy’s state debt, are down up to 10%. The yield spread on Italy’s debt soared to 330 by midday Tuesday. The euro as a whole is trading sharply down.
The worst possible outcome for Italy’s European partners was a return to power for Berlusconi, who at this point is driven only by his lust for revenge against the EU and his desire to give himself immunity from prosecution for the many legal charges pending against him. Europe was spared this catastrophe; though Berlusconi did manage to get the most votes in the senate, he does not have enough seats to control the senate. But the actual result – gridlock and chaos – is not much better. In fact, it could be worse.
A vote for anarchy
A vote for anarchy
Why would so many Italians vote for M5S, a party whose sole election promise was not to govern? Why would they vote for a comedian who has called for al-Qaeda to bomb Rome and kill the Italian political elite? Why, in short, have Italians chosen to sabotage their own country, and in so doing potentially sabotage all of Europe?
Ironically, it is this disdain for Rome that has historically made Italians one of the most Europhile populations in the EU. It is a population that is in a large part happy to have laws be set and enforced by Brussels instead. While knowledge of how the EU works sits at comparatively low levels (almost reaching British depths of ignorance), positive feeling about the EU is among the highest in the union.
That is, until recently. This election campaign was marked by fiercely anti-EU rhetoric. Grillo and Berlusconi both railed against the EU, Germany and the euro – and together they received 50% of the vote. Yet neither man offered any alternative. If the government in Rome is broken beyond repair, and the government in Brussels is driven by a self-harming German push for austerity that must be defeated, what does that leave us with?