Given the state of the electorate today, it's likely to be that way. Have a look at the charts produced by Tychobigdata, a big-data start-up linked to the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca: When Berlusconi launched his campaign against the tax, the conversation on Twitter focused on him, adding to the traditional media advantage that he, as owner of three television networks, has traditionally enjoyed. The fact that there were just as many tweets and Facebook postings blasting Berlusconi didn't matter. Once more, he dictated the Italian political conversation, controlling the dominant issues. But the regional charts show just how intense the political conversation is within the different areas of the country. Bersani is still working to be recognized as a political leader in the south; Monti is strong in Rome and the north, but he lacks a consistent base. Both Berlusconi and Grillo, however, appear as true national leaders, discussed all over Italy on the web.
Bersani's likely plan is to muster a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and -- should he fail to secure one in the Senate -- to propose a pact with Monti and his centrist allies. In private conversations, Bersani confirms he will propose the pact even if he has an overall majority. He acknowledges the Italian fiscal crisis is not over; analysts say that more than 13 billion euros may be needed to balance the budget in 2013. He also knows that Italy's powerful unions will protest any further public-spending cuts and that he needs the centrists to tame them.
At the same time, raising the fiscal pressure on taxes, which are already heavy -- at around a 46 percent rate for top-bracket individuals and businesses -- would kill growth. A moderate reformist, Bersani looks at French President François Hollande's political fate with apprehension: Hollande has failed so far to implement his electoral promises, and it took a military intervention in Mali to improve his approval ratings. Bersani does not have a military "wag-the-dog" option. He sees a slow course of reforms, focusing on jobs, the south, and boosting private consumption -- yet he will be resistant to any spending sprees. Not long ago, Europe's economic basket cases were the PIIGS: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. Now, in Europe, everybody worries about FISH -- France, Italy, Spain, and Holland -- the fear being that these economies will be crippled by high-spending Socialist governments.
The wildcard is Grillo. He's hoping for a weak cabinet, forcing a national unity pact of Bersani, Monti, and Berlusconi, which would leave him as the sole leader of the opposition. How will Grillo lead his troops -- all of them political debutants? In Sicily, where his 5 Stelle party now exercises power after local elections last fall, he has been mostly a naysayer. 5 Stelle successfully blocked the stationing of MUOS, a U.S. satellite system that would protect NATO's southeast flank in the Mediterranean and serve as a strategic asset in Syria -- over vague health concerns. He talks of Italy withdrawing from the eurozone, renegotiating all international agreements, and calling home troops from most peacekeeping missions. This could be political posture, but 5 Stelle is unpredictable. More than 100 of his Grillinis are expected to enter the Chamber of Deputies and Senate after the upcoming elections. The moderate left is already, cautiously, checking them out, hoping a few of them -- tired of Grillo's tirades -- will later join arms.
Should the election results match the latest polls, Italy's political dilemmas may not be over for a while. Bersani, even as a prime minister, should ponder why his Democratic Party is still failing to entice the middle-class vote in the productive, high-tech north. Monti should find a new, more nuanced balance between being a technocrat and a politician. Berlusconi has to decide what to do with the 25 percent of the votes he'll get -- play the spoiler or eventually find a true political heir? Even Grillo, after the raucous celebrations of his "Grillini" are over, will discover that running the world's sixth-largest economy and Europe's second industrial power is, after all, no laughing matter.