Beppe Grillo steps aside from Five Star Movement

The Italian comedian and politician, who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has stepped aside ahead of the Italian election

Beppe Grillo, the comedian who co-founded Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has becme one of the major forces in Italian politics, has stepped aside.

Grillo launched a revamped version of his blog on Tuesday, with all references to the 5Stars removed. All that remains is one link to the group’s new website.

The blog is no longer overseen by Casaleggio Associate, the media firm that has run the blog since its early days and has played a crucial role in the side of the 5Stars since the movement was launched in 2009.

By distancing his blog from the 5Stars and  Casaleggio, Grillo is distancing himself from the political party of his own creation.

The move is speculated to be one to bolster the party’s chances ahead of the general election on 4 march.

Grillo has been instrumental in turning the movement into Italy’s most popular party. He emerged into the politics scene in 2009, after joining forces with Casaleggio to launch the blog that railed against political corruption.

In the past few months the 69-year-old Grillo has avoided appearances at the party’s events and earlier this month said he would take his blog in a different direction.

The blog  had struck a chord among an electorate weighed down by the economic crisis and fed up with the traditional political class, and became the driving force behind the movement’s phenomenal success in the 2013 elections, when it snatched the second-largest share of the votes.

Grillo has been distancing himself from the party for some time. In 2015, just a year after the party made gains in the European elections, he announced that he was leaving politics and returning to comedy.

As he toured comedy clubs, the Grillo was thrust back into the spotlight a year later after taking a swipe at Sadiq Khan, saying the Muslim mayor of London would “blow himself up in front of Westminster”.

After that Grillo took more of a back seat, gradually grooming 31-year-old Luigi di Maio for the party’s leadership.

Di Maio, who was elected leader in September and is the party’s candidate for prime minister, said on Tuesday night that the split did not mean “patricide” or “reneging on the past”.

 “The party is now moving forward on its own legs and getting stronger,” he said.

The Five Star Movement is leading in opinion polls, ahead of the centre-left Democratic party, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League.

Roberto d’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said: “Maybe [Grillo] wants to guarantee its survival and see how it will fly in his absence.”