Italy is ripe for comedic relief. After electing (and twice re-electing) a prime minister convicted of tax evasion and accused of multiple raunchy sex scandals while in office, their political scene has a new star: a comedian.
The Five-Star Movement, political satirist Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment group, was started in 2009 when Silvo Berlusconi, then 72, was still in office and accused (later convicted) of paying for sex with underage girls. Headed by the wild-haired Grillo, the party’s five “stars” stand for the five key issues of public water, sustainable transport, development, connectivity and environmentalism. In the 2013 national elections, the anti-political political party won roughly a quarter of the votes and now controls 54 of Italy’s 315 Senate seats. The movement only nomiates candidates with no prior political experience and refuse to negotiate with other parties. The elected antipoliticians have publicly rejected “political privilege” by cutting their salaries, commuting to office via bicycle and avoiding tax-funded cafeterias.
The self-proclaimed “hyper-democratic” movement relies heavily on the Internet to let constituents dictate its direction, communicating via social media and live streaming their meetings. Gianroberto Casaleggio, the shaggy-haired and bespectacled tech guru behind the Five Star Movement, believes new technologies allow direct democracy for the first time. “What is happening in Italy is just the beginning of a much more radical change,” he told The Guardian. “It’s a change that is going to touch all democracies.”
The first major victory was when the party won municipal elections in Parma and took administrative control of the city a year ago. Since then the city has been watched closely to see how the protest party would govern, and the results have been mixed. Campaign promises of lower taxes have gone unfulfilled, and the local government still has not set aside 5 percent of its budget to projects dictated by the populace.