Italy’s full election results will not be known until tomorrow morning, but their broad outline is already clear. The two large coalitions of left and right are about equal; the center Left Olive Tree coalition leads the center-right House of Freedom by two percent and shrinking. The much-touted centrist party, led by “technocrat” Mario Monti but backed by Angela Merkel and the European Union, received between 10 and 11 percent of the vote. And the left-right populist coalition headed by comedian Beppe Grillo won a quarter of the votes and is now in the position of kingmaker that Monti’s party was (quite confidently) aiming at.
Another way of looking at these results is that they amount to a strong recovery by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi; a disappointment for the center-left’s Pier Luigi Bersani, who expected a solid win; and a severe defeat for Monti (who, after all, was prime minister a few weeks ago); and a humiliation for Germany’s Angela Merkel, who more or less dismissed Berlusconi and appointed Monti in his place to ensure that Italy followed Berlin’s policy of economic austerity in defense of the euro.
And a third way of looking at the results is that they represent the victory of national democracy over supranational bureaucracy.
Other things being equal, Beppe Grillo — who is more left than right — would be expected to create a large, sprawling center-left coalition under Bersani by supporting the Olive Tree and perhaps even joining it in government. But the Olive Tree coalition is almost as devoted to maintaining Italy’s membership of the euro and its accompanying austerity as Monti’s party. And Grillo, despite his other fun-anarchist positions, seems to have a good grasp of the economics underlying the euro. He knows that, as long as Italy sticks with it, Italy will be stuck with low growth, high unemployment, and growing debt. And the only political party that is also skeptical about the euro is the House of Freedom.
But the obstacle to any serious cooperation between Grillo and the center-right is Silvio Berlusconi himself. Culturally speaking, Berlusconi is almost the incarnation of the failing and corrupt Italian political system that Grillo’s new movement erupted to challenge. Berlusconi seems to realize this himself; he has more or less ruled himself out as the next prime minister. But he is not the only member of his party. And if there is a member of the House of Freedom who is generally recognized as honest, able, and knowledgeably skeptical about the euro, he could be the central figure in forming a coalition. As it happens, there is someone who stands out on all three counts.
Yesterday, I argued that former defense minister and Chicago monetary economist Antonio Martino had the qualities that would be needed in an Italian president faced with the instability and uncertainties arising from a deadlocked election. That judgment still holds good. But he also has the qualities that could help Italy to break the deadlock and avoid this instability by instituting a coalition government that, while it might be internally at odds on many issues, would be united on the central necessity facing the nation: getting Italy out of the euro and perhaps leading southern Europe into a new restructured dual European currency. He is, in this respect, the Anti-Monti.
Comedian Grillo might even find Martino a far more congenial coalition partner than most, because Martino is the only known living example of a funny economist. Read here about his detective efforts to discover from his Italian university just how much he was paid. (Spoiler alert: The mystery was never solved.)
This just in: Late returns show that a final victor in the election is Andrew Stuttaford, who has been telling NR readers for some months that an election result like tonight’s was on the cards. Congratulations, Andrew, and best wishes for another victory in Thursday’s British Eastleigh special election.