ROME -- Beppe Grillo can allow himself a few days to bask in the afterglow of his triumph in Italy's election, but soon the comedian who now leads the country's largest party will face some tough political choices.
After a spectacular rise since its formation in 2009, Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star movement won a stunning 26 percent of lower house votes, fractionally more than the center-left Democratic Party. His 108 seats in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies and 54 in the 315-seat Senate leave him holding the key to Italy's political future.
"We hope to change politics and give a bigger voice to the young. The old parties did nothing for 30 years," said Manolo Pellegrini, 26, a television technician.
The only government that can be formed without Grillo's consent would be a re-edition of the unnatural alliance between center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi and Pier Luigi Bersani on the center-left, which ruled for a year under outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti. After decrying Grillo for months as a rabble-rousing demagogue, the other parties are already hinting they want to do business with him.
Now not just Italians, but also foreign leaders worried by the inconclusive election outcome in the eurozone's third-largest economy, are asking themselves what Grillo will do next.
With his fierce invective against established politicians, the hoarse-voiced, shaggy-haired Grillo has been branded a dangerous populist by many commentators, yet he could turn out to be a positive force for Italy.
Grillo, 64, did not run for election himself and says with some irony that he is merely the 5-Star's "spokesman." Grillo has admitted that his movement was more suited to local politics and was unprepared for parliament.