* Grillo's 5-Star Movement could be Italy's biggest party
* Seen vital to formation of a government
* Consummate campaigner, drew thousands to his rallies
By Gavin Jones
ROME, Feb 25 The outcome of Italy's national
election is still uncertain but what is already clear is that
the massive winner is Beppe Grillo, a shaggy haired comedian
whose anti-establishment 5-Star movement could well become the
country's largest party.
It had been clear from weeks that Grillo, with his fiery
invective against the traditional parties, was making impressive
progress in the polls, but no pundits had imagined he could win
around a quarter of the votes cast.
"It's marvellous, in three years we have become the biggest
party in Italy," Grillo said in uncharacteristically calm tones
in his first comments after the vote in a live video feed.
"It's been a wonderful adventure and we will do everything
we promised in the election campaign," he said.
Touring the country in a camper van and attracting tens of
thousands to his rallies, 64 year-old Grillo channelled the rage
and frustration of Italians at the rampant waste and corruption
of their political leaders.
Grillo wants Italy to hold a referendum on remaining in the
euro. His policy platform, which sapped votes from the left and
right alike, includes cuts in politicians' privileges, a minimum
income for the unemployed, clean energy and free internet.
"The implications of Grillo's success extend far beyond
Italy," said London-based political think-tank Demos. "His
success demonstrates an appetite for change, and mainstream
parties would do well to take the movement seriously."
Grillo now holds the key to any chance of a government being
formed in the euro zone's third largest economy.
Vote projections suggest the 5-Star Movement is now vying
with the centre-left Democratic Party to be Italy's biggest
political force, on course to gain 26 percent of the vote, ahead
of the 25 percent for the PD, which is running as part of a
That would be enough to give him around 110 seats in the
630-seat lower house and 64 in the 315-seat Senate, making him
crucial to any potential coalition.
After decrying him for months as a rabble rousing demagogue,
the other parties are already hinting that they are ready to do
business with him.
"We have to try to work with them to find points that we
agree on," said Alessandra Moretti, a candidate with PD, which
failed to win the election victory that was expected.
It remains to be seen whether Grillo wants to play ball.
Most of the 5-Star candidates, who were picked in primary
elections conducted on the internet, are complete newcomers to
politics at any level. A quarter come from blue-collar jobs.
Grillo himself did not run for election because a
manslaughter conviction from a traffic accident in 1981 made him
ineligible under his movement's rule banning candidates with
He says he is merely 5-Star's "guarantor" and spokesman.
A prolific blogger, he never appears on political talk shows
and also bans his movement's candidates from doing so, to avoid
them being associated with the "zombies" representing
While Grillo's rhetorical skills make him an ideal front
man, many analysts point out that his movement's followers,
often young professionals, tend to be far more down to earth and
The average age of the four mayors elected by the Five-Star
Movement in local elections last year was 31, in contrast to the
gerontocratic world of Italian politics.
Grillo's campaign culminated on Friday with a rally which
drew hundreds of thousands of people to what used to be the
traditional meeting place of Italy's left.
Screaming in his trademark hoarse voice, he yelled to the
crowd in a rising crescendo: "We have become the third biggest,
the second biggest, the biggest party in Italy."
Few commentators thought that was possible, although the
comments of scores of voters to Reuters outside polling stations
around the country suggested something remarkable was afoot.
"I'm sick of the scandals and the stealing," said Grillo
supporter Paolo Gentile, a 49-year-old Rome lawyer. "We need
some young, new people in parliament, not the old parties that
are totally discredited," he said.
The rise of the 5-Star Movement, which organises itself
through the Internet and social networks, has been spectacular.
At its first political test in 2010 it won just 1.8 percent
of the vote, rising to 3.4 percent at Milan's mayoral election
the following year. After Monday's result, no one would now dare
try to guess where it might go from here.