by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- A year after the Five-Star Movement (M5S) emerged as Italy's second-biggest political force and a novelty in traditional politics, the grassroots force experiences rising animosity and a battle for survival.
Since it gained more than 25 percent of the national vote in February 2013, the M5S has firmly remained in the opposition, refusing to collaborate with the mainstream parties that the movement wanted to overturn after decades of scandals.
However, when M5S leader Beppe Grillo, a famous comedian-turned-activist, held government formation talks with new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi days ago and showed indignation for old-style politics by not letting Renzi speak, some accused him of "authoritarian methods."
The incident brought tensions in the internet-based movement, which expelled four members who had criticized Grillo. In protest, six M5S lawmakers voluntarily presented their resignations as senators on Thursday.
"The fact that Grillo cannot be criticized is unacceptable in a civil rights movement of a Western country. We agreed with our leader's vision but we also wanted to improve the M5S," one of the ejected senators, Francesco Canpanella, said.
Media reports said the M5S was on the verge of splitting over divisions about the intolerance of internal dissent and rebels could form new groups in parliament.
Grillo loyalists and political analysts who have studied the movement since it was founded in 2009, however, agreed that the turmoil not only did not pose a threat for M5S but could further strengthen it.
"I think that Grillo will take advantage of the rebels' dismissal as he will handle a more cohesive group," Elisabetta Gualmini, a professor of political science at the University of Bologna and one of the main experts on the M5S, told Xinhua.
"Some 15 to 20 members who leave the M5S certainly would not be a problem, it is normal for a movement which is very young and had an extraordinary success. The M5S brought to parliament a much greater number of lawmakers than expected," she noted.
The M5S was the first anti-establishment force to reach a strong consensus among all social classes -- from entrepreneurs to housewives and workers of every age -- in a European country. The protest vote last year marked widespread discontent in Italy after 20 years of scandals in the political landscape.
Over the last few months, M5S lawmakers, mostly inexperienced and young, have appeared to have really made their presence felt in Italy's parliament.
For example, they accelerated introduction of some much-needed measures and returned the part of their salaries that was in excess of their needs to cover living expenses.
"Beside being a protest movement, they have also given the positive signal that common citizens can have an active role in making politics more transparent and efficient," Gualmini explained to Xinhua.
"But the M5S was built on the strong leadership of Grillo and we cannot expect a softening of strategy that would make the M5S more similar to traditional parties," she added.
It was especially Grillo, she noted, who made the movement attractive. In her view, the leader has solid support and the M5S will manage to overcome turmoil in a few days, while "rebels" are destined to fade away.
"One thing is improving our movement, another thing is wanting it to become something different," Nicola Morra, a M5S Senator, said commenting on Thursday's resignations.
"Those who would like to start a dialogue with the PD (Renzi's center-left party) have not clearly understood our objectives, which are eliminating the present political class and returning reliability and coherence to politics," he added.
Gualmini went on to say that "it was and will always be the inclination of M5S to be an opposition force, a sort of social goad in parliament." The expert underlined she did not think that the M5S would ever be at the helm of Italy.
In the long term, the protest movement physiologically could lose some strength and reach vote percentage of around 10-15 percent, Gualmini said. "This would depend, however, on the renewal capacity of mainstream parties. The better they do for Italy, the more the M5S will be destined to decline," she said.