Editorial: Italy good at political farce

18:52, Feb 27 2013

The country's leaders, at civic and national level, are often derided as clowns by disillusioned voters and sometimes by fellow politicians. Gerry Brownlee, the minister with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery portfolio, has called Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker "a clown". Labour's Maryan Street has scornfully reminded John Key he is not a performing seal or a circus clown - he is the prime minister.

But the clowns in Kiwi politics are amateurs. In Italy, people have been to the polls to vote - among several options - for parties led by an economics professor or a comedian. The global finance markets hoped the professor, outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, would win. He had been caretaker prime minister since 2011, when appointed to stabilise the Italian economy. The frontrunner in opinion polls was Pier Luigi Bersani, from the centre-left Democratic Party, a pro-European candidate who served as a minister in the 1990s.

But Italians obviously enjoy buffoonery. Another pre-election front-runner was Silvio Berlusconi, an ageing womaniser and former prime minister who heads the centre-right People of Liberty Party. He had significant support in spite of - or maybe because of - his lavish lifestyle, allegations of corruption, "bunga bunga" sex parties, and a conviction last year for tax fraud. His appeal allowed him to run for a fifth term in office with a promise of amnesty for tax evaders and the abolition of an unpopular real estate tax.

The joker in the pack was a shaggy-haired comedian, Beppe Grillo, who headed the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement. He won't be a member of parliament. A conviction for manslaughter in 1980 disqualifies him.

The Economist opined that the campaign would be a test of the maturity and realism of Italian voters. It will be disappointed. Mr Grillo's novice populist party won more votes than any other, although the election was inconclusive. Party chiefs are trying to forge a coalition to head off the need for another vote. Finance markets are in a tizz.

But while the uncertainty that upsets them has brought down the NZ dollar, exporters pressing for a lower currency shouldn't smile. Volatility in the money markets will complicate trading for them and increases uncertainties for the whole economy.