ROME The only Italians celebrating the deadlocked outcome of Monday's election were supporters of comic Beppe Grillo, whose 5-Star Movement steamrolled into parliament and sparked fears that Italy could reject austerity and even the euro.
No group secured a majority in the upper house, making the formation of a government dependent on post-election alliances, but Grillo's movement caused a shock by winning 8.7 million votes in the lower house, making it the country's largest single party and shocking world investors.
"I'm not worried about financial markets," 5-Star activist Alessandra Pinci, 39, told Reuters. "I'm very happy. It was time for some change in this country."
Some suggested the 5-Star Movement would echo the fate of the far-left SYRIZA party in Greece in 2011, which became a leading party on an anti-austerity platform and led to a hung parliament. Greek voters back-pedaled in a new election a month later and elected a center-right party that promised to keep the country in the EU.
"Italy is the mirror of Greece," Chiara Vulpis, a 20-year-old student in Rome who voted for the center-left, told Reuters. "Many who voted Grillo may not vote again. I don't want to insult anyone, but they don't have solid ideas and could change their minds one day to the next."
The movement's agenda contains a potluck mix, from providing free Internet access to boosting education spending. Grillo has also proposed a referendum on the euro, but the movement's main goal has is get rid of Italy's old political guard.
Grillo's top targets have been center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, who he calls the "psycho dwarf", Prime Minister Mario Monti, or "Rigor Montis" and the easygoing center-left chief Pier Luigi Bersani.
In this weekend's vote, the 5-Star movement took a giant step toward its goal of cleaning out the old guard, putting more than 160 complete political novices in parliament.
"The political system has fallen," Grillo declared outside his home on the Ligurian coast in northern Italy on Tuesday. The movement gathered steam as Grillo toured Italy in a camper van, drawing huge crowds to outdoor rallies building up to the vote.
The movement drew Italians increasingly shut out of permanent full-time jobs, disgusted with political waste and corruption, and frustrated with growth-smothering austerity.
"I was convinced the 5-Star Movement would cause a shock in the election because outrage with the political class has reached boiling point," Vincenzo Cannizzaro, a 48-year-old accountant in Palermo, told Reuters.
On Monday night at the PD's campaign headquarters in central Rome, a large black sack filled with celebratory balloons and confetti remained suspended, unused, from the ceiling. Bersani left without speaking a word.
Just a mile away, the 5-Star Movement candidates were assailed by television cameras and photographers for the first time in their lives as they gathered in a pizzeria to celebrate.
One future lawmaker, 34-year-old Alessandro Di Battista, awkwardly sipped a tall glass of lager during a live TV interview.
Newcomers to politics, the movement's lawmakers were unrepentant though pragmatic on Tuesday at the Rome hotel that is serving as their campaign headquarters.
"The important thing is renegotiate the conditions with Europe," new lawmaker Carla Ruocco, a 34-year-old mother of two, told Reuters when pressed about her stance on the EU.
"It will be a nice spring day when we enter parliament. We'll throw open the windows and let in some fresh air."
Though several Grillo supporters expressed some concern about a repeat election, as happened in Greece, they said they would vote for the movement again, perhaps indicating that unlike SYRIZA, the 5-Star would not lose out in a second vote.
"Of course I'll vote for Grillo again!" Fabrizio Parodi, a 45-year-old shop owner in Genoa, said. "Who else am I supposed to vote for? Berlusconi?"
(Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri in Rome and Wladimiro Pantaleone in Palermo; Editing by Peter Graff)