Too big for his boots?

Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement suffered a heavy defeat in Italy’s local elections this week, only garnering around half the votes it won in the country’s national ballot in February. The results came as a relief to those who were concerned about the growing leak of voters from Italy’s mainstream parties to the political fringes.

The 25 percent vote it gained in the February ballot was too big for a party built exclusively around the aim of attracting the nation’s protest vote. Its supporters wanted to see it derail government policy. Grillo paid the price of choosing to limit himself to the role of observer and commentator on Italian developments.

Grillo’s party became a vehicle for protest from the left, which, after terrifying the West for four decades following the end of the Second World War, gradually grew into a basic parameter of the system. In Greece, the transformation of PASOK under the leadership of Premier Costas Simitris is indicative of that process which eventually resulted in the disintegration of the Socialist party founded by the late Andreas Papandreou and the rise of SYRIZA along the PASOK paradigm.

In Greece, the challenge to the system has come from the right that is not controlled by New Democracy – that is Golden Dawn and Independent Greeks (without suggesting of course that there are any similarities between the two).

To be sure, the rise of the anti-systemic right has not been exclusive to Greece. In France, the threat of a Jean-Marie Le Pen victory in the presidential race was thwarted after socialists voted en masse for Jacques Chirac. In Austria’s 1999 election, Joerg Haider won 27 percent before deciding to join the government of conservative Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. His Freedom Party broke up as a result.

Here in Greece, GD has not yet – even in public opinion polls – reached the height of its popularity and is thus not presented with such dilemmas. It is almost certain its influence will grow before it starts to ebb for the same reasons that far-right parties in other parts of Europe were affected negatively.

On the issue at hand, the example of Grillo’s misfortune is perhaps more apt for SYRIZA, whose stellar rise to the main opposition and whose very possible chances of becoming the ruling party in the next elections have brought to the fore some serious fissures within the party that may prevent the party from further penetrating the broad electoral base.

But general elections are still some time away and when they do come, the first problem that ND’s Antonis Samaras will have to face is PASOK’s diminished presense, if not total disappearance, from the political scene. The danger of finding himself without any viable partners is very real for Samaras.