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Monday, February 25, 2013

Comedian’s Blog Could Soon Be Italy’s Largest Party

Although an aide to Silvio Berlusconi demanded a recount late Monday, after his center-right coalition appeared to lose the battle for the Italian Parliament’s lower house to the main center-left coalition by less than 0.4 percent, a look at the raw vote totals reveals a sharp decline in support for the former prime minister. According to the provisional count, Mr. Berlusconi’s party got about 6 million less votes than in 2008, slipping from first place all the way to third.

As my colleague Rachel Donadio explains, though, that did not spell a triumph for Mr. Berlusconi’s traditional rivals, the center-left Democratic Party, which lost nearly 4 millon votes, because more than 8 million Italians voted for the Five Star Movement, a party that emerged, fully formed, from the comedian Beppe Grillo’s popular blog. At the end of counting late Monday, Mr. Grillo’s party had more votes than any other in the lower house election and the second-most votes for Italy’s Senate.

While Mr. Grillo’s mass movement, which drew suppor! t from disenchanted voters on the left and the right, did not run as part of either main coalition, and so will not lead Italy’s next government, the scale of the new party’s turnout, organized largely through the Internet and vast rallies, stunned journalists.

There were, however, clear signs of the Five Star Movement’s growin popularity in a series of late rallies Mr. Grillo called his #TsunamiTour in appeals to his nearly 1 million Twitter followers, which culminated in a final campaign appearance attended by an estimated 800,000 in Rome.

Images of recent mass rallies for Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

One byproduct! of Mr. G! rillo’s success could be fresh elections, since the center-left coalition led by the Democratic Party, which spurned him as a potential candidate four years ago, is now unable to command a majority in the upper house, and so might not be able to form a government.

As my colleagues Ian Fisher and Rob Harris explained in an article and a video report on Mr. Grillo in 2007, he first allied popular support that year with his “V-Day,” based on the deep-seated desire of many Italians to dismiss their entire political class with an obscene phrase that starts with that letter in Italian.