The loser (beyond common sense), is Italy's center-left project for a modern, innovative country. It never was a strong party line in an election dominated by the politics of rejectionism: Monti had to compromise with his crusty allies while Bersani had to keep his socialist, pro-union wing at bay. Political white noise eventually confused the voters. They stuck to Berlusconi or gambled on Grillo. Only the party faithful -- some of them grudgingly -- voted for Bersani, their ranks thinned in the north, decimated in the south.
Now it is up to President Giorgio Napolitano to choose a prime minister and send him on a perilous safari to secure a majority and appoint a cabinet. Bersani may form a minority cabinet and beg Grillo, on his left, to support him. This is the "Sicilian formula," wherein the island's center-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, now has to negotiate every bill with 5 Star hardliners. For example, to secure the 5 Star vote on a recent budget bill, they forced Crocetta to strike down MUOS, a strategic NATO radar system, over alleged health concerns.
Will Bersani follow the same path? Will he swap national budget cuts for canceling defense projects? Will he buy a much needed new electoral law at the price of outlawing research on genetically modified food? (The latter is one of Grillo's pet peeves: he even called the late Italian Nobel laureate Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini "a bitch" for her biological research.) Will these sorts of deals diminish the party's international standing? We'll see.
Bersani doesn't have a great deal of options. He could approach his archenemy Berlusconi and form a large coalition. But the campaign between the two was very bitter and doing so would cede the opposition to Grillo, who would thrive in such a position. And Berlusconi would likely require that Bersani give in on tax cuts (not to mention squashing any talk of regulating his television networks), moves many would see as a step back to the old, cozy ways of Italian politics.
President Napolitano's final option would be opening the procedure to call a new round of elections , to be held after his successor is elected in the spring. For Grillo, however, this would be a wonderful springboard -- he'd run as the lonely maverick against the inert establishment.
So we're stuck. Meanwhile, Milan's stock market plunged at news of the political stalemate, while Italy's main bank, Intesa San Paolo, lost 10 percent in a few hours on Tuesday. It was enough to make European Central Bank President Mario Draghi worry that his own country might spark a new bout of eurocrisis. And it's a valid concern: European leaders are afraid that Italy's political malaise will stop whatever anemic progress there has been after the Greek debacle. Since Draghi vowed "to defend the euro at any cost," 100 billion euros in foreign investments poured back in southern Europe, including Italy. Will investors stay away now?
Here's one more curveball to consider: when the polls closed, and Bersani's Pyrrhic victory was called, TychoBigData -- a big-data start-up which maps raw political data online -- saw a sudden jump in tweets for Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence. Renzi may have lost in the PD primaries against Bersani, but for many in the left he seemed the ideal candidate. He has not spoken since his party defeat, yet insiders say he's pondering his next move. A young and brilliant politician, Renzi will likely wait and watch as Berlusconi, Bersani, Grillo, and the political animals attempt to devour one another. Whether he can rise about the carnage is anyone's guess. But Italy's swamps are very treacherous this winter.