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Grillo say M5S was trapped, crack appears in hard line

Grillo furious after centre-left man elected Senate speaker

18 March, 15:30
Grillo say M5S was trapped, crack appears in hard line (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, March 18 - Cracks have appeared in the 5-Star Movement's (M5S) hard line after a handful of the anti-establishment group's lawmakers defied orders and voted for the centre-left's candidate to be Senate speaker at the weekend.

M5S leader Beppe Grillo, who is hostile to the established parties and had ordered his movement's Senators to abstain, was furious, saying there would be consequences for the rebels who had fallen into a "trap".

After inconclusive votes on Friday, Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left alliance managed to get both of its candidates elected as Speakers for the House and Senate, Italy's third- and second-highest institutional roles respectively behind the president.

Having failed to reach an agreement for a consensus candidate, the centre-left had no trouble getting Laura Boldrini, a former spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, elected into the key position in the House.

However, the centre-left, which came first in last month's general election but failed to win a working majority in the Senate, was not sure of being able to carry the day in the Upper House.

In the first rounds of voting the Senators belonging to the M5S, which holds the balance of power in the Upper House after capturing a massive protest vote last month, backed their own candidate.

But when it came to Saturday's run-off between the two frontrunners, a few M5S Senators opted to back the centre-left's man, former chief anti-Mafia judge Pietro Grasso, rather than run the risk of seeing Renato Schifani, the candidate of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre right, keeping the job he held in the previous parliamentary term.

Three M5S Senators have admitted voting for Grasso.

The outcome shows comedian-turned-politician Grillo, who has not been elected himself, may have problems imposing discipline on his novice lawmakers.

Nevertheless, experts say it is still unlikely that Bersani will manage to convince enough M5S Senators to win a confidence vote in a government led by him and break the political deadlock the country is currently embroiled in.

When Grillo berated the rebel Senators at the weekend, it revived claims that the 64-year-old from Genoa runs the movement like a dictatorship. Bersani said he was using "Leninist" methods.

That criticism did not stop Grillo hitting out again on Monday, saying the M5S rebels had broken the movement's rule to stick with the line agreed by the majority and shown political immaturity.

"The choice between Schifani and Grasso was an impossible one," Grillo wrote on his long-standing blog, which gave life to the Internet-based M5S in 2009.

"It was a question of deciding between the bubonic plague and a bad cold... "The game had already been organised to put the 5-Star Movement in trouble. Some people, in good faith, fell into it.

"The same pattern will be repeated in the future. Berlusconi will propose unacceptable people, the (centre-left) PD (Democratic Party) will give a fig leaf.

"The M5S must not fall into these traps. Anyway the problem isn't Grasso. If, for example, the majority of the M5S Senators had decided to vote for Grasso and everyone had stuck by the decision, there wouldn't be any case to answer. "What's at stake isn't Grasso, but the respect of the M5S's rules".

Bersani has tried to win the M5S over with an eight-point platform reflecting many of the movement's policies, including cuts to the number of parliamentarians and other measures to reduce the cost of politics.

Grillo, who says Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) is part of a corrupt, malfunctioning system that he wants to revolutionise, has responded with insults, which have included him describing Bersani as a "dead man talking".

With Bersani ruling out the hypothesis of forming a grand coalition with Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, the prospect of Italy having to return to the polls later this year seems likely.

President Giorgio Napolitano is set to start consultations with party leaders on Wednesday, after which he will ask one of them, probably Bersani, to try to form a government.