Rome

5-Star MPs to vote on fate of Senator who 'defamed' Grillo

Deepening rift could split anti-establishment party

5-Star MPs to vote on fate of Senator who 'defamed' Grillo

Rome, June 17 - Parliamentarians from the 5-Star Movement (M5S) are set to vote Monday on the future of a Senator from the anti-establishment party who spoke out against its firebrand leader and founder, Beppe Grillo, exposing what many believe are deepening rifts that may split the opposition group in two. Last week Adele Gambaro, elected to the Senate in February, publicly called Grillo "a problem for the movement" for striking an obstinate tone that she said led to a flop at recent local elections across the country. "We are paying for that tone," she said in an interview with television network Sky TG24 after poll numbers showed low turnout for the M5S and a sweeping victory for the center left, which won all 16 provincial capitals up for grabs, including Rome. Grillo should "write less and observe more," Gambaro added, referring to the comic-turned-politician's prolific posts on his blog, a primary soapbox for the movement he launched in 2009. It was here, hours after Gambaro's remarks, that Grillo accused her of making "false and damaging statements about me". "In addition to hurting my image she has done the same to the 5-Star Movement," he added. "For this reason I invite her to leave the M5S as soon as possible". Gambaro, however, has flatly refused to leave the party "until someone decides to expel me". For that reason Grillo has called on his elected MPs to vote on keeping or ejecting Gambaro from the party. If a majority of the 107 M5S members in the House and 53 in the Senate defy Grillo, the vote will be more of a referendum on his troubled leadership than on one outspoken Senator - who was not to first to question the face of the movement. Late last year, Grillo expelled two dissidents from the movement, after they accused him of running affairs in an undemocratic manner. The hard line has not stamped out criticism within the movement, which captured around a quarter of the vote in February's general election. "We are too Grillo-dependent," M5S Senator Bartolomeo Pepe told Rome daily Il Messaggero last week, adding that the movement was heading towards "self-destruction". "Even from a physical standpoint, Beppe cannot last another parliamentary term," Pepe said of the movement's 64-year-old leader, who toured Italy in a camper van in the so-called 'Tsunami Tour' and swam across the Messina Strait before the general election. "Can you picture him when he is 70 still getting mad at demonstrations? "We will last a term of parliament, we are destined to self-destruction," he said, adding, however, that being in parliament was already a victory for the movement. If a schism plays out, defectors are expected to be more open to allying with the PD, who tried to negotiate with the M5S after the inconclusive February elections but failed, leading to two months of gridlock which was eventually broken by the unprecedented - and highly volatile - coalition between the center left and center-right People of Freedom party of three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi. The vote on Gambaro's fate will take place at a meeting scheduled for 17:00 local time.

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