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article imageItaly: Comic turned activist shakes political establishment

By Alessio Fratticcioli     Apr 22, 2012 in World
Rome - As Italians' faith in political parties declines, an allegedly populist movement led by a former comedian is set to become the third political force.
Mr Beppe Grillo, 63, is a comedian and actor successfully turned into number one Italian blogger and political activist.
His website, (in English here), has been ranked by The Guardian as one of the world's most powerful blogs.
Drawing heavily from the followers of his blog, in October 2009 Mr Grillo founded the 5-Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S), which represents the first and only Italian case of a web presence which has been converted into a proper electoral list.
According to a recent Swg poll, reported by the daily Unita (here in Italian), to a hypothetical "if elections were held today" question, 7.2 per cent of the answers were in favor of M5S. According to the opinion poll, only the Democrats (25.2%) and Berlusconi's People Freedom Party (24.9%) are sure to do better than the comedian's movement.
Italians are going to vote for local elections in May, a vote which is also seen as test for national political parties. The elections come less than half a year after the technocratic government of Mr Mario Monti, which took over from Mr Silvio Berlusconi’s Right-wing coalition, was announced on 16 November 2011.
While austerity-hit Italians are tightening their belts and Monti's Cabinet faces falling approval ratings, Grillo's movement appears to be the rising star of Italian politics.
Mr Grillo's movement "is successfully exploiting disaffection with politicians who are seen as corrupt and ineffectual," Reuters wrote, "and polls suggest it could be a big winner at mayoral elections on May 6-7."
Mr Grillo swore he will not enter politics, preferring to support M5S with his blog and shows. Anyway, as his movement grows, it is also facing critiques, with the other political parties warning the public of Grillo's "populist" threat.
Former Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, a member of Berlusconi's party, told Reuters that Grillo was "populist, extremist and very dangerous".
Mr Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic party, said that traditional parties risked being "swept away" by the rising appeal of Grillo's populism.
Mr Nichi Vendola, leader of the Left Ecology and Freedom party (SEL), said Grillo's M5S was "a mix of extreme right and extreme left policies which make it a disturbing phenomenon".
Mr Grillo preached that his movement is not Left nor Right-wing, but "above" politics.
"Parties criticize us and accuse us of populism because they're scared," he said at one recent rally.
"They're scared because they are facing something they don't understand."
Although it is not clear yet whether M5S represents an empty one-man populist movement or a fresh example of a democratic, anti-corruption and anti-establishment movement born within the political space opened up on the web, there are few doubts that M5S is a new political phenomenon both in the Italian and in the European context.
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