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  • It is tough economic situation facing young Di Maio if he does manage to become premier of a M5S-dominated government. Small wonder then that last week this youth, born at Pomigliano d'Arco near Naples, made a trip to a Neapolitan church to kiss the relic of the beloved saint San Gennaro, whose blood is believed to liquefy annually.
    Despite his party's resounding lead over every other party in Italy, Di Maio's M5S failed to achieve the 40% necessary to gain control of the government -- at least not yet. But on Friday the newly installed 630-member Parliament and 315-member Senate begins electing their presidents, in a notable show of horse-trading and power.
  • The Five Star Movement (M5S) founded by Beppe Grillo is now the largest single party in Italy, new public opinion polls show. One result of the forward leap to perhaps 32% of potential voter support is that early national general elections seem unlikely.
  • Most of the pundits and pollsters got it wrong - seriously wrong. Not one had hazarded that Premier Matteo Renzi's Partito Democratico (PD) would walk away with almost 42% of the vote for a new European Parliament, and - even more startling - that his blustering arch-rival Beppe Grillo of the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) would manage to lose some 2.5 million voters, claiming at best 21.6% of the electorate. (The figures are not definitive because they do not include the overseas vote and some outlying Italian districts.)
  • The proposal for a revision of the election process finally made it into the Chamber of Deputies this week, as neo-Premier Matteo Renzi had promised, but it does not quite resemble the deal expected after he and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi had a widely publicized (and widely criticized) meeting to hash it out. In the Senate, Beppe Grillo, head of the Movimento Cinque Stelle, went on a North Korean-style warpath, casting out dissidents. New polls show center-right and center-left neck and neck, and, for Grillo, disapproval.
  • Matteo Renzi's trumpeted agenda for renewal of the Partito Democratico begins with reform of the despised "Porcellum," the "porker" or "pigsty" law, promoted by Silvio Berlusconi, which took effect in December of 2005. By its terms in a national general election the political party which bests the others, even when it has a mere 30% of the vote, walks away with 55% of the Senate and a large percent in the Chamber. Renzi is having none of this-- and is scaring the old pols witless because he seems willing to accept reform votes in Parliament from any quarter, not excluding the aggressive Beppe Grillo.
  • Election of a new president remained a will o' the wisp on Day Two of the vote. At 7 pm the joint parliamentary session was suspended after Romano Prodi received only 395 votes - 109 fewer than necessary to be elected to succeed Giorgio Napolitano. Behind Prodi was Stefano Rodota' with 214 votes and, farther in the distance, Anna Maria Cancellieri, who has been serving as Interior Minister under the emergency government of Mario Monti (78 votes), followed distantly by Massimo D'Alema (15). Tomorrow a new vote takes place, but at this point, no one is making any guesses as to the outcome save that new national general elections remain a serious risk, and an expensive prospect.
  • One month after Italy's national general elections, Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Partito Democratico (PD), is trudging up a political Mount Everest whose peak hides, invisible, in the clouds. When President Giorgio Napolitano tapped him last week to begin testing the ground for creation of a new government, in essence Bersani was asked to resolve the three-way split that pits his PD against both the rightist Liberty Party (PdL) of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the forces of self-righteous, angry Beppe Grillo. Can that three-way split be resolved? These are crucial questions as the vote for the the presidency looms a few scant weeks away.
  • The famous Ides of March of ancient Rome fell on March 15, the day when the tyrannical Julius Caesar was assassinated in the building where the Senate was meeting. His assassin was Brutus, acting on behalf of a group of conspirators known as the "Liberators." By coincidence, Italy's neo-deputies and senators take their seats in Parliament and the Senate on that very day. Among them, the largest single political party - 109 members of the Chamber of Deputies (25.5%) and 50 Senators (23% ) - is led by Beppe Grillo, whose weapon of choice in trying to liberate the system from itself is rhetoric.
  • The March 2 Economist magazine has Italy on the cover and the headline: "How Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi threaten the future of Italy and the euro." The charge: "Confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe's single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality." A better way to put it is that some here have failed to grasp reality because reality is complex. A government that can handle the economic crisis, and the social crisis implicit in it, is necessary, but which government?
  • In Italy's most important national general elections in half a century, turnout is expected to be low by the usual standards, but the stakes are extraordinarily high, and begin with the search for finding ways and means to stimulate the economy. And can the pre-election battle lead to a functional coalition?

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