Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, demanded that parliamentarians in his group declare their votes openly after some apparently defied party orders in a secret ballot to appoint the speaker of the Senate.
In a post on his blog late on Saturday, Grillo said 5-Star parliamentarians were bound to follow voting directions agreed by a majority in advance and indicated that he expected any members who failed to do so to resign. “If anyone has not met this obligation, they have lied to voters and I hope they will take the necessary consequences,” he said. He said he wanted 5-Star senators to declare their votes.
Several 5-Star Movement senators seem to have voted with the centre-left alliance led by Pier Luigi Bersani in Saturday’s vote to elect former anti-mafia judge Pietro Grasso as speaker of the Senate, despite instructions to cast an empty ballot. The vote was one of the first pieces of business conducted by parliament since the inconclusive February election which gave Bersani control of the lower house but left him without the numbers to control the Senate and form a government.
But, the neophyte 5-Star Movement’s lawmakers were, among other things, housewives, students or jobless before they took their seats in Italy’s parliament on Friday, and it remains a mystery how they will handle their newly won power. “We are not guided by remote control. All of us have our own sensibilities, our own conscience and Pietro Grasso is certainly not part of the old apparatus,” he told the daily La Stampa.
Last year Grillo was criticized for running the movement with a heavy hand when he expelled two members who defied his diktat to shun television talk shows. On Saturday, center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi likened him to being a cult leader.
“It’s a sect that reminds me of Scientology,” Berlusconi said.
The Pizzarotti’s Difference
The movement’s most experienced politician is the elected mayor of Parma, the 39-year-old Federico Pizzarotti, a former computer systems manager for a bank, who now runs the northern city of Parma, with almost 190,000 inhabitants and 1,400 employees. Pizzarotti and his 20 5-Star councilors have a solid majority in city hall.
In Parma, the mayor has made policy that clashes with Grillo’s anti-austerity message, and he said he did it without talking to the movement’s founder or to Gianroberto Casaleggio, the Internet guru who is seen as its strategist. “We have each other’s telephone numbers,” Pizzarotti told Reuters in his office. “But there are no consultations before we make decisions.”
Judging by the national election, the citizens of Parma have liked what they have seen, with 5-Star winning 28 percent of the vote in the city, higher than its showing nationally.
By the time Pizzarotti took office, previous city governments had racked up 840 million euros in debt, or about 4,500 euros for every resident, the mayor said. Pizzarotti, facing his city’s enormous debt, has cut spending but not taxes after promising to lower them during his campaign. He kept local levies at the maximum levels permitted by law, and he has raised the costs of city-run daycare and pre-school for some, prompting vocal protests from parents. About 150 city employees protested outside town hall on Thursday, shouting “buffoon” and “shame on you” because they face pay cuts of up to 10 percent.
“We have inherited a huge debt,” Pizzarotti said. “The issue is not lowering taxes so I can say I did it. It is what is possible to do, economically, without cutting services.” As a symbolic gesture, Pizzarotti cut his own salary by 10 percent, and 5-Star lawmakers have promised they will reduce theirs by even more as part of their bid to cut the privileges of what they call the political “caste”. “The city council has found itself blocked by debt, just like the national government,” Ernesto Grisenti, 66, one of the owners of central Parma’s most popular delis in a city famous for its Parmesan cheese and cured ham, told Reuters. “Pizzarotti will make himself unpopular by putting the city’s accounts in order,” said Carlo Pavesi, a shop owner. “The politicians who came before him were very popular, and now we have 800 million euros in debt to pay off.”
Pizzarotti said he had already cut debt by 10-15 percent since he took office, and that he would lower the tax rates before the end of his five-year mandate. He has not convinced everyone. “We expected more concrete results after 10 months,” said Marina Lazzini, owner of several perfume stores around the city. Nicola Dall’Olio, a PD council member in Parma, said it would be “very risky” if 5-Star’s representatives were thrust into government because of their inexperience. “One of Grillo and the 5-Star Movement’s key points is that anyone can be in public service, but it is complex and it requires administrative experience which cannot be improvised,” he said.
But for Pizzarotti, it is the discredited experience of the political classes that makes 5-Star fit to replace them. “We are ready, definitely; especially if you consider who came before us.”
- Analysis: Parma mayor sheds light on mystery of Italy’s 5-Star (news.terra.com)
- Italy’s Grillo calls members to declare votes after order ignored (worldbulletin.net)