If no single party or coalition emerges with a parliamentary majority, Italy’s president could ask parties to attempt to form a grand, cross-party coalition that could have a limited lifespan. If that fails, he could call fresh elections. Speculation has swirled around the possibility of a grand coalition between the Democratic Party, the current ruling party, and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, along with smaller parties.
Mr. Grillo emerged in the late 1970s as one of Italy’s most popular comedians, whose mordant political satire deftly took down Italy’s corporate and political elite. In 1986, during an appearance on Italian state-controlled broadcaster RAI, he joked about a trip the country’s Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was then making in China. “If everyone is a Socialist [in China], who do they steal from?” he said.
The joke struck a nerve and cost Mr. Grillo his gig on the channel. He later said the experience soured him on television and drew him to other outlets, such as the internet and theaters, where he could have direct contact with fans.
Mr. Craxi eventually was at the center of the “Clean Hands” corruption scandal that swept away an entire political class, putting many politicians under investigation or in jail. Indicted on corruption charges, Mr. Craxi, who denied wrongdoing, fled Italy in 1994 and later died in exile.
In 2005, Mr. Grillo began writing a blog that exposed corporate malfeasance and official corruption. It became one of Italy’s most popular, with millions of readers.
He became electrified by a best-selling book by Italian journalists called “La Casta” that recounted tales of former parliamentarians collecting pensions in their 40s, arranging public-sector jobs for relatives and enjoying cut-rate lobster meals in their private restaurant. He launched a “Clean Parliament” campaign for a popular referendum that would ban from office lawmakers with criminal convictions.
In September 2007, he organized an event to publicize the campaign that he dubbed V-Day, with “V” standing for vaffanculo, Italian for f— off. He mobilized activists to collect signatures in more than 200 cities in Italy and abroad.
Before a crowd of 100,000 in Bologna, Mr. Grillo read the names of 24 parliamentarians and the crimes for which they had been convicted. Throughout the event, he led the crowd in a rousing “Vaffanculo!”
“These people don’t represent anybody,” he shouted from the stage. “We have succeeded in something that will go down in history. This is the Woodstock of honest people.” His supporters collected 350,000 signatures, seven times the number needed to force parliament to examine the proposed law. In 2012, a law banning convicted criminals from serving in parliament was passed.