Pier Luigi Bersani
Pier Luigi Bersani

Members of Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left Democratic party have been disoriented by the results of Italy's general election. Polls ahead of the vote showed Bersani in a strong lead, with at least 35 percent of the share. There was already speculation about future alliances with the centrist movement of outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, a distinguished economics professor who led Italy through the financial storms of 2012.

Everything seemed written in stone that Italy would be led by a pro-Europe, pro-market and pro-liberalisation centre-left government that could please foreign investors and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the shock outcome of Monday's vote has depicted a different Italy, perhaps a more desperate one.

Those who leaned most on Monti's austerity government of technicians and blindly supported every tax rise or pro-Merkel statement were punished. Those who embraced the litany of "market and flexibility" of the technocrat were left at the margins of parliament.

The great comeback: Berlusconi

As has happened many times before over the last 20 years there was one man who understood that all before the others, and that man is Silvio Berlusconi. He is not a magician. Instead, he has a deep understanding of the underbelly of the Italian voters and is sympathetic to them.

Far from being seen as a continuation of the status quo, Berlusconi pulled out from his magic box the issues that the Italians were most sensitive to. He pledged to abolish a hated tax on property. He launched long tirades against Germany and austerity measures. He sent letters to Italians promising compensation for taxes imposed by Monti.

Some Italians even checked in at their local post office to ask if the money had arrived as he promised, even though his letter was not an official act. But something so naif also has its tragic quality. It means that many people are desperate and poor.

Bersani and his Democratic party were seen as detached from the people. Embracing austerity and taxes in an era of extreme poverty, unemployment and lack of growth means losing the support of the majority. The Democrats were seen as snobbish, pandering only to their traditional supporters.

Bersani himself is a man of the establishment. A former communist, he won the primary of his party against a young politician, the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. Bersani conducted a campaign based on the formula "us against the others" and he lost.

Grillo: The real left?

The moral winner of this election is, of course, the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. Despite a lack of internal democracy, Five Star was the only "party" able to capture public anger and resentment against austerity, the financial crisis, taxes and so on.

When they closed factories, Beppe Grillo, not Bersani, was there. When people protested against the construction of a high-speed train that had environmental implications on northern Italy, Beppe Grillo was there.

His anti-austerity, anti-bank and anti-market programme belongs more to a European socialist party than that of Bersani. In a spectacular demonstration of power, Grillo inflamed a 800,000-strong crowd in Rome's Piazza san Giovanni - a traditional stronghold of centre-left in Italy.

At the same time, Bersani was busy conjecturing on political alliances with Monti in a legacy of the old political system. With his policies against public funding of political parties and politicians' high wages, Grillo was a friend to many Italians tired of the establishment's old privileges.

Bersani failed to embrace and communicate change in a country desperate for hope. He isolated himself and his party in an assumption of victory, paving the way for the Grillo tsunami.

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