Grillo's anti-politics MPs test political waters in Rome

Movement holds balance of power in parliament

04 March, 17:36

Beppe Grillo, leader of the 5-Star Movement Beppe Grillo, leader of the 5-Star Movement

(By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, March 4 - Newly elected lawmakers for Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement (M5S) held their first meeting in a Rome hotel on Monday after rocking Italy's political establishment with a stunning performance in last week's general election.

The former comedian's movement holds the balance of power in parliament after winning a total of 163 seats in both houses and stopping Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition gaining a working majority in the Senate.

Grillo, who has not personally been elected, has said his movement will not vote confidence in a government formed by Bersani or ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose centre-right coalition came second in the vote.

He also said he has knocked back attempts from Bersani to lure him into a post-election pact by offering institutional positions for members of his movement, including the speaker of one of the houses of parliament, saying he would not get involved in "horse trading".

Grillo has, however, said the movement that grew out of his blog will vote in favour of bills that are on its agenda.

Nevertheless, the distance separating him from Bersani, whom he last week called a "dead man talking", has led to big doubts about whether it will be possible to form a government.

Bersani has ruled out forming a grand coalition with Berlusconi's bloc.

This means there is a real possibility that Italy will have to return to the polls later this year to break the deadlock.

This may be what Grillo wants. The stated aim of the 64-year-old from Genoa, who has been blasted as a populist rabble rouser advocating policies that would take Italy towards a Greek-style economic meltdown, is to destroy the current party system.

"We'll be besieged, they are possessed," Grillo said at Monday's meeting at Rome's Hotel Universo.

"They cannot understand that we want to push forward a project, (with measures) such as that for a basic income guarantee.

"We'll be united and all in agreement to go down our road and (bring about) change with the laws we propose".

The M5S's success has been interpreted as a sign that the Italian public is tired of a political class that has been tainted by a series of corruption scandals and has proved unable to address the country's economic ills.

The Internet-based movement, which was founded just over three years ago, targets the political establishment in several of its main policy proposals.

These include the abolition of public funding for parties, a ban on elected officials having other jobs, a two-term limit for public officials and rendering people who have had a criminal conviction ineligible for office. Indeed, Grillo himself did not stand for parliament because of a manslaughter conviction in relation to a 1981 car accident in which three of his friends were killed in a car accident while he was at the wheel.

The movement'S MPs are political novices who were chosen in an online primary of around 20,000 people. Their lack of political experience could be seen in the nerves shown by many of the new parliamentarians as they introduced themselves at Monday's meeting, which was transmitted on the M5S's website.

Nevertheless, Grillo stressed that the "atmosphere here is good, with competent, valid people". The movement's manifesto, which has been criticised for being too vague, also features pledges to promote free broadband access, the abolition of stock options, a cap on the salaries of senior executives, a ban on the privatisation of local water companies, more energy saving and renewables, the aforementioned basic income guarantee and a conflict of interests law.

Grillo, a loud, often foul-mouthed, passionate public speaker, has also said Italy should have a referendum on whether the euro should continue to be its currency and has proposed that all trade unions be abolished.

The lawmakers representing the movement, which won more votes than any other single party in the House contest, said they were backing Grillo's line and would not be lured away to rival groups trying to find recruits to have a majority in parliament.

"We have said that we will not vote for the confidence of the (established) parties," said Vito Crimi, a 40-year-old Palermo native who was named the M5S's "spokesman" in the Senate.

The M5S's House "spokesperson", a figure media outlets are comparing to a conventional party's whip, will be Roberta Lombardi, a 40-year-old Roman.


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