The Malta Independent 18 November 2017, Saturday

Nationalist Party likely to lose an MEP seat to Partit Demokratiku

Sunday, 20 August 2017, 11:30 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Nationalist Party is likely to lose one of its coveted seats at the European Parliament to Partit Demokratiku come the 2019 MEP election.

Rumours have abounded since Marlene Farrugia’s shock announcement that she will not contest the upcoming election for the leadership of the party which she herself founded, to the effect that she has her eye on a seat at the European Parliament.

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But Farrugia told this newspaper that while she herself is not contemplating running for the EP, the PD as a party is considering it.

Contacted on the matter yesterday, Farrugia said, “PD is considering running in the EP elections, provided the new leader and executive follow the path currently planned out for PD. I, myself, haven't thought about it yet. My answer instinctively is ‘No I will not contest MEP elections’.”

But any run for the European Parliament by PD, if successful, would presumably come at the expense of the third European Parliament seat obtained by the Nationalist Party in the 2014 MEP elections.

Marlene Farrugia stunned political analysis and ordinary citizens last week when she declared that she would not be running for party leader this October. She gave personal reasons for her choice not to run for leadership of the party she created a few months ago. PD successfully made it to Parliament with two seats thanks to a coalition Farrugia had struck with PN leader Simon Busuttil. 

Her fellow PD parliamentary seat holder, her partner Godfrey Farrugia, has also said he was not interested in contesting the party’s leadership, but former PD Deputy leader Anthony Buttigieg, who resigned his post soon after the election, announced his intention to run for party leader.  

Notwithstanding the fact that he was never involved in politics before the 2017 election, he was met with praise and encouragement from Marlene Farrugia who earlier this month criticised the four PN leadership hopefuls as ‘non-starters’.

In comments given to The Times, Marlene Farrugia denied that PD is all but a family affair. However, people close to PD who are already feeling estranged from the new party’s tactics told The Malta Independent on Sunday Marlene Farrugia is all out to see the PD represented at the EP and that as matters stand the party would only achieve the goal by taking one of the PN’s three seats at the assembly.

The party is apparently mulling the idea of whether to go it solo or in a coalition for the MEP elections. It knows only too well that none of the PN leadership hopefuls are warm to the coalition idea – including Chris Said who was part of the decision taken by the parliamentary group to join forces with PD under the Forza Nazzjonali banner.

However, the political fox that she is, Marlene Farrugia knows only too well that if her creation has to make a solo run in the 2022 general election, she will need to improve its stature by having one of Malta’s six allocated MEPs, a feat that not even Alternattiva Demokratika has managed to attain.

Political analysts claim that the PD is betting on the possibility that outgoing PN leader Simon Busuttil will run for MEP in 2019. While many see this as an elegant exit from local politics for Busuttil, in numeric terms it would be disastrous for the Nationalist Party.

As with past MEP election experience, and more so now that he occupied the leadership for four years, Busuttil is expected to amass a huge number of first count votes that may reach 60,000 if not more. That means that while other PN candidates will remain in the balance awaiting second preferences hailing from Busuttil’s votes to reach the 30,000+ quota, PL will elect its three, possibly four, MEPs before others from the PN make the cut.

If a PD member runs for MEP on PD’s own steam and Simon Busuttil contests for the PN, the most plausible scenario would be that Simon Busuttil is the first to be elected. He will probably be followed by the Labour Party’s Miriam Dalli, who is expected to surpass the quota this time round instead of former PL leader Alfred Sant – reason being that this will possibly be the election before she launches her PL leadership bid to replace Joseph Muscat.

If Alfred Sant runs for another term, and he most probably will considering that he was the only PL candidate to have been elected with 48,000 first count votes in 2014, he will be next to get the seat, followed by the PN’s Roberta Metsola. Even though Metsola is considered to be leadership material within the PN, with Simon Busuttil running for MEP she will find it hard to get the 32,300 first count votes she received in 2014. Yet she will be the next, and possibly only, PN candidate to be elected after Busuttil, if he decides to run. If he doesn’t then she will definitely be elected on her own steam without the need for second preferences.

Labour will surely easily elect the fifth MEP, particularly if it retains the 32,000 majority attained in the 2014 MEP elections as a party.

Marlene Mizzi would be next in line unless the PL fields a star candidate who could take the cream of the second preferences from Alfred Sant before she does.

The sixth and last available seat will then be a battle between the PN and the PD. A PD candidate may attract around 10,000 first count votes and eventually take a good chunk of second preferences from Simon Busuttil if he runs for MEP. But would a PD candidate be able to topple David Casa (who may not run if elected PN Secretary General), Francis Zammit Dimech or any other candidate that could hail from within the parliamentary group?

Such a prospect is likely. One would need to see how the 19,500 first count votes attained by David Casa would be distributed should he not contest. Norman Vella would be the next possible contender to take on those votes should Ray Bugeja call it a day, leaving another 7,600 first count votes up for grabs. If he positions himself properly, Vella, who hails from a Labour background but secured himself a respectable position within the PN, could be the answer to PD’s quest for PN votes and save the day for the PN.

However, the worst-case scenario for the PN would be placing the PD candidate(s) and other PN candidates into a waiting contest for Busuttil’s second and third preference votes. By that time another PL candidate may be able to reach the quota before a PD, PN or possibly an AD candidate gets there.

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