In a crazy twist of Italian politics – in a nation known for its zany political life – the Roman lawyer, scholar and commoner Stefano Rodotà unexpectedly became the presidential candidate of the Five Star Movement in Italy, the rising political force there. The amazing thing is, he nearly won!
Rodotà is a kindly, clever, fiercely intelligent and straight-shooting left-wing legal scholar and politician. Now nearly 80 years old, Rodotà is a something of a grey eminence in Italian politics. He has served four times in the Italian Parliament and once in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He helped write the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. He has taught at universities in Europe, Latin America, the US and India.
The recent success of the Five Star Movement (M5S) in the February 2013 elections abruptly opened up this opportunity for Rodotà and the commons. M5S was launched in 2009 by a comedian and activist, Beppe Grillo, to focus on five key issues – public water, sustainable transportation, development, connectivity and environmentalism. The movement is less of a real party than a cultural vehicle for voters to express resentment, frustration and hostility toward the political class in Italy. M5S is generally populist and libertarian in orientation, sometimes with a right-wing flavor (anti-immigrant policies). But Grillo is a showy amateur as a politician and not exactly a small-d democrat (he gives no press interviews and doesn’t welcome debate within M5S).
Still, the movement's issues and profile are compelling enough that M5S won more than 25 percent of the vote in the February 2013 elections – second only to the Democratic Party, which won only a fraction more votes. Forming a government in a country with dozens of political parties can be a difficult proposition, however, especially when personalities, political history, ideology and various odd circumstances are thrown in.