M5S risks split over dissident ejections
Four Senators considering quitting parliament26 February, 16:14
The four will be definitively expelled if an online vote on comedian-turned-polician Grillo's blog ratifies the decision.
The outcome of the poll is expected at 19:00 Italian time.
Grillo called on M5S supporters to oust Senators Lorenzo Battista, Fabrizio Bocchino, Francesco Campanella and Luis Alberto Orellana, saying they were "no longer in sync with the movement".
The four were critical after Grillo erupted with an angry barrage and would not allow any else to speak without interrupting during government-formation "consultations" with Premier Matteo Renzi a week ago.
The dissidents refused to quit the movement, arguing it should tolerate internal debate. Several other M5S lawmakers have defended their right to criticise even if they do not agree with what the dissidents said.
Six M5S Senators reportedly left their resignations from the movement in protest over the case on a table after storming out of a party meeting on the issue Wednesday.
There are rumours of a breakaway group of rebels against Grillo's line being formed in the Lower House. "Maximum solidarity for the Senators," posted M5S MP Alessio Tacconi on his Twitter account. "Consider me the fifth (dissident)". The four lawmakers on the verge of being expelled released a video Wednesday defending themselves.
"So what if we spoke nonsense?," said Battista. "Is it normal to expel us for nonsense?".
Campanella objected too.
"We are the movement of direct democracy and we cannot even say that something could have been done better. Are we joking?," he said. The M5S, which selects its candidates and policies via online polls of supporters, ejected two parliamentarians last year for expressing dissent. Senator Adele Gambaro was thrown out in June after blaming Grillo for the party's poor showing at a round of local elections. Another Senator, Marino Mastrangeli, was voted out in April for breaking a ban on appearing on television chat shows, which Grillo says are rigged to favour the established parties along much of the rest of the Italian media.
Some M5S members are hoping a split can be averted.
"I still hope there is a chance of patching things up," said Senator Maurizio Buccarella.
"We are discussing things. The resignations (of the four Senators threatening to quit in protest) have not yet been handed in". The M5S won around a quarter of the vote at last year's inconclusive general election after railing against the existing party system it claims has generated corruption, debt, unemployment and economic decline.