* Grillo's deputies all in their twenties or thirties
* None have previous experience in parliament
* Are mostly pragmatic, shun ideology
* Grillo may find it hard to control them
By Francesca Piscioneri and Gavin Jones
ROME, Feb 28 Meet the Grillini. They are the 162
very ordinary people who are now regarded with trepidation by
financial markets and world leaders after this week's Italian
election failed to produce a government.
The Grillini - literally "little Grillos" - are the
lawmakers elected for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of
comic Beppe Grillo, which upset all forecasts by emerging as the
largest party in Italy.
They now hold the key to the future of the euro zone's third
largest economy and possibly of the single currency as a whole,
amid fears that Italy's political instability could re-ignite
the region's currently dormant debt crisis.
It will be very hard for Rome's hung parliament to form any
government without their consent, but they appear to be neither
rabble-rousers, demagogues nor even populists, three accusations
often levelled at their leader.
Like the movement's mayors and councillors who already run
city and regional governments, they seem far more pragmatic than
Grillo, whose proposals can become more and more extreme as he
whips himself into a hoarse-voiced frenzy at his rallies.
"The ideologies are finished, ideas aren't right-wing or
left-wing, they are good or bad," said Sebastiano Barbanti, a
36-year-old marketing strategist elected in the poor southern
region of Calabria.
Barbanti told Reuters that 5-Star's "model" should be the
kind of policies pursued by its regional councillors in Sicily,
who gave up 75 percent of their salaries and pooled the money
saved to provide cheap credit to small businesses.
It remains to be seen whether Grillo's lawmakers are
dangerous, but the 108 lower house deputies and 54 senators
certainly seem like aliens in the stuffy, gerontocratic world of
All of the deputies are in their twenties or thirties and
none have any experience of professional politics. Those spoken
to by Reuters had voted for the left or abstained in previous
They reflect Grillo's promise to select "normal people"
rather than the mixture of career politicians and celebrities
recruited by most of the other parties.
They are teachers, students, factory workers and housewives;
doctors, nurses and engineers. Several are unemployed. They will
refuse the title of "honourable" normally reserved for
parliamentarians, preferring the plain "Mr" and "Mrs".
They were selected as parliamentary candidates in primaries
held on the Internet, where they were voted on by party
supporters after introducing themselves with a written biography
or by using a webcam.
Grillo's whole movement, which he founded just three years
ago, is based on the Internet.
It has no headquarters, no local offices and no internal
hierarchy other than that Grillo is its undisputed leader. And
he even rejects this definition, describing himself with some
irony as merely its "spokesman".
His followers are certainly inexperienced, but they also say
they are determined to bring desperately needed transparency and
honesty to the corridors of power.
Their priorities do not however include a referendum on
Italy's continued membership of the euro, the suggestion of
Grillo's that most worries markets.
His disciples expressed no anti-euro views and played down
the referendum idea, which does not feature in the party's
manifesto, as just a way of provoking debate on an often taboo
Instead, they all want to change Italy's dysfunctional
electoral law, crack down on corruption and waste, cut spending
and find ways to offer cheap credit to hard-pressed firms and a
minimum income to the unemployed.
Carla Ruocco, 34, who works in state tax offices in the
central Lazio region, said she and her fellow deputies would
collect just 2,500 euros ($3,275) per month, compared with the
standard lawmakers' salary of around 8,000 euros ($10,500).
"The first thing I want to do in parliament is to reduce
what Italians have to pay for their political institutions," she
Riccardo Nuti, a 31-year-old computer technician elected in
Sicily, said reforming the electoral system that resulted in the
current hung parliament, and legislation to curb corruption and
conflicts of interest were his top priorities.
But for all their zeal, the challenges facing the army of
political novices are daunting and it could all end badly. Their
opponents on both left and right, as well as in much of the
media, will be working to ensure that it does.
First the Grillini will have to take a crash course in
parliamentary rules and discipline, choosing their whips,
spokespeople and members of committees without squabbling among
themselves like the "normal" parties they despise.
And then it remains to be seen how long their morals will
resist the murky temptations that come with power. Will they
change the system or will the system change them?
KEEPING A GRIP
An often cited comparison is made with the pro-devolution
Northern League, which burst onto Italy's political scene in the
early 1990s on a crusade against waste and graft but has itself
been humbled by series of corruption scandals.
The 5-Star lawmakers dismiss the comparison, saying the
League was really about discrimination against the poor south,
and that by quickly allying itself with media tycoon Silvio
Berlusconi it showed it had little interest in morality.
"With 2,500 euros a month, because remember we are giving
back the rest, there's no danger of us going into parliament to
get rich," said Laura Castelli, a feisty 26-year-old tax
consultant who was elected in the northern Piedmont region.
With his ferocious invective against the greed, waste and
corruption of Italy's political and business elite, Grillo is
undoubtedly responsible for the party's success.
Yet the shaggy-haired 64-year-old comic did not run in the
election and so will not be joining his followers in parliament.
This could make it more difficult for him to keep a grip on
He showed his authoritarian side two months ago when he
expelled two party members who bemoaned a lack of internal
democracy and flouted the movement's rule not to appear on
television talk shows.
If he should expel any of his parliamentarians from the
party they can easily move to a rival one on the left or right
where they are sure to be welcomed with open arms.
And difficulties could arise very quickly over the question
of whether to do a deal in parliament with the centre-left to
allow a government to be formed.
Grillo has ruled out any formal alliance, saying the party
will only support proposals it agrees with on a case by case
basis, forcing the centre-left into an unnatural left-right
coalition with Berlusconi if it wants to survive.
But his position has already been criticised by many
supporters on the party's blog, its main forum for
communication, and one of the lawmakers spoken to by Reuters
also seemed to favour of an alliance.
"If we can find a common policy platform then I don't see
why we shouldn't give them our support," said Sebastiano
Barbanti, the Calabrian deputy.