Grillo loyalists rally amid M5S turmoil

'He's the megaphone, we're the voice' say supporters

Grillo loyalists rally amid M5S turmoil

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 18 - Demonstrators loyal to Beppe Grillo, the founder and leader of the troubled 5-Star Movement (M5S), staged a protest outside the Italian Lower House Tuesday amid an escalating row over internal dissent. "Beppe is the megaphone, we're the voice of the movement," read a banner. Several M5S MPs also took part in the demonstration. It was launched in response to growing criticism by "dissidents" in the group, the most vocal of whom has been Senator Adele Gambaro. Last week she called comedian-turned-politician Grillo "a problem for the movement" after its flop at local elections across the country, when the center-left Democratic Party (PD) swept all provincial capitals up for grabs, including Rome. Pundits cited the Grillo's uncompromising rhetoric and his refusal to compromise with the PD after the M5S's sensational success at February's general election, when it won around a quarter of the vote, as the reason for the poor showing in the local polls. Late Monday M5S MPs voted in favor of kicking Gambaro out of the movement, but opted to give the rank and file the final word in an online poll. The affair is viewed as a defining moment in the movement founded online in 2009 by the Grillo, a comedian known for irreverent rabble-rousing. While a majority of M5S MPs present, 79, voted to oust Gambaro, a significant minority of 42 voted against it, with nine abstaining. There has even been speculation that the M5S could hold of vote on Grillo's leadership. Nicola Morra, the M5S's Senate whip, dismissed this. "If there were a referendum on Grillo it would mean that he had been incoherent or contradictory," Morra said. "Until he is, there will be no votes (on him)". Gambaro is not the to first to question the face of the movement, who frequently communicates his political thoughts via an often angry blog where no holds are barred. 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, which 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.

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