Italians have shunned traditional parties in local polls and picked protest candidates to govern several cities.
It signals a major shift in the political landscape ahead of next year’s general election.
In the most sensational result, comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement consolidated its meteoric rise by winning the mayor’s office in the city of Parma.
In contrast, amid a low turnout, the two main parties in the coalition backing Prime Minister Mario Monti’s austerity programme did not fare well.
“These days the Italian people feel they can’t trust the political class,” said political analyst Luigi Spinola in Rome. “And that is also down to the fact that 20 years after the ‘Clean Hands’ political corruption scandal, fresh scandals have shown that many parties still fail to manage public money in a transparent way.
“There is certainly a very tense social climate. Recently we have seen a rising level of tension concerning possible acts of terrorism by groups who would like to exploit this situation.
“So it is clear that beyond the political stability of this government and the wilingness of these weakened parties to continue supporting unpopular measures, now there is a new problem to face: the security and stability of Italian society.”