ROME — Italians awoke to the prospect of political deadlock Tuesday after a national vote in which two very different showbizzers emerged as winners: TV mogul Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, a standup comic with an anti-establishment platform propagated via social media and live appearances in the country’s piazzas.
While neither man won the elections, both bested pollster predictions and Grillo’s web-driven Five Star movement came from nowhere to become the biggest single party in the lower house with 25% of the vote and 23% in the upper house.
Berlusconi, the former prime minister who was considered politically defunct until recently, staged a stunning comeback thanks to a TV blitz in which he promised practically impossible tax cuts.
Berlusconi’s center-right coalition has 29% of the lower house and 30% of the upper house, about one percentage point less than the center-left bloc of Pier Luigi Bersani, which is not expected to have sufficient parliamentary seats in the upper house to govern alone.
On Monday, as the first electoral results came in, shares in Berlusconi’s Mediaset rose as much as 10%. They were down Tuesday as Italy’s instability rattled markets.
But the broadcaster’s stock price has gained about 60% since Berlusconi threw his hat back in the ring late last year, underscoring the impact of his political influence on his company’s balance sheet.
Grillo ruled ratings on pubcaster RAI until the mid-1980s when he was banned from TV for cracking a joke about Socialist prime minister Bettino Craxi being a thief.
His newfound success is driven by tirades on his blog against political and corporate corruption and a pro clean energy and free Internet campaign. Top of Grillo’s agenda is a conflict of interest law that would force Berlusconi to either put Mediaset in a blind trust or leave politics.