By Angelo Amante
ROME (Reuters) - The leader of Italy's 5-Star Movement on Thursday said a group of senators who broke ranks and rejected Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government in a parliamentary confidence vote will be expelled from the party.
The decision to support Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank, has lacerated 5-Star, the largest group in parliament, which was created in 2009 as an anti-system, anti-euro party.
In an online ballot last week, some 59.3% of 5-Star members backed the new broad-based administration, but a group of 15 senators decided to ignore the result and voted against Draghi in a confidence vote in the upper house on Wednesday. [nL1N2KH1VC]
5-Star leader Vito Crimi said they would pay heavily for their rebellion, which did not prevent the incoming government from securing an overwhelming victory.
"Those 15 senators will be expelled... they have not respected the commitment to comply with indications coming from members," he wrote on Facebook.
A further eight 5-Star senators failed to show up for the vote and the party said it would investigate their absence.
Among those who voted against Draghi were some of the movement's leading lights, including former minister Barbara Lezzi and the head of parliament's anti-mafia commission, Nicola Morra, who said he was "shocked" by Crimi's decision.
Senator Elio Lannutti said efforts to curb internal dissent were reminiscent of the East German secret police, the Stasi.
"We will appeal the decision," he wrote on Facebook.
The dissidents have complained that backing a technocrat prime minister goes against the group's ideals and said they could not support a government that included their arch foe -- former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
The 5-Star Senate group will be reduced to 77 members if the mass expulsion is carried out, leaving it still the largest single party in the chamber. The movement originally had 112 senators after the 2018 general election, but since then, many have been expelled or have quit in dissent with the leadership.
Draghi is likely to win another resounding victory in a second confidence vote to be held later on Thursday in the lower house of parliament. Once again, a number of 5-Star lawmakers are expected to defy orders and vote against.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Bernadette Baum)