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M5S risks splitting over ejection of 'dissidents'

Senators of Grillo movement consider separate group

26 February, 20:28
M5S risks splitting over ejection of 'dissidents' (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, February 26 - The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) was in danger of splitting Wednesday after a majority of its lawmakers voted to eject four Senators who criticised leader Beppe Grillo.

The fallout from that created chaos within the ranks, calls for a separate parliamentary group, and threats of resignations.

The four dissidents were definitively expelled after an online vote on comedian-turned-politician Grillo's blog ratified the earlier decision.

In the vote among M5S supporters, almost 30,000 voters supporting the explusion while just over 13,400 were opposed.

Grillo had 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 of their leader's behavior a week earlier, during government-formation "consultations" called by Matteo Renzi shortly before the Democratic Party (PD) leader became Italian premier.

In those television meetings, Grillo erupted with an angry barrage and would not allow anyone else to speak without interrupting, triggering a frustrated response from Renzi.

Despite Grillo's call for their resignation, the dissidents initially refused to quit the movement, arguing that the M5S should be able to tolerate internal debate. Several other M5S lawmakers took similar stands, defending their right to critique the movement when they wish - even if they do not agree with what these particular dissidents said.

At least four M5S Senators were reportedly poised to resign from parliament in protest over the case and there were rumours of a breakaway group of as many 10 senators rebelling against Grillo's line being formed in the Lower House. "Maximum solidarity for the Senators," posted M5S MP Alessio Tacconi on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

"Consider me the fifth (dissident)". The four lawmakers who were expelled released a video earlier Wednesday defending themselves.

"So what if we spoke nonsense?," said Battista, in response to criticism. "Is it normal to expel us for (speaking) 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. Another Senator, Alessandra Bencini, said she had had enough: "I want to go home," she 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 of the M5S 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 sources said there was talk of forming a new parliamentary group.

M5S Senator Roberto Cotti, who had objected to the earlier explusions, said this could include as many as 30 former M5S members.

Still, some M5S members said Wednesday that they were hoping a split could 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.