The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

PN, Marlene Farrugia held talks on possible resignation, co-option of Ivan J. Bartolo

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 29 November 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Nationalist Party and independent MP Marlene Farrugia were involved in a discussion which could have led to her resignation from Parliament and the co-option of Ivan J. Bartolo, but the matter was later dropped as the PN risked irking the unelected candidates on the 10th district.

The negotiations took place after the election of Bernard Grech as PN leader in early October and his subsequent co-option to Parliament, made possible after the resignation of Bartolo, but fell through soon afterwards, sources told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

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They coincided with the Labour Party’s process of co-opting two MPs, Miriam Dalli and Clyde Caruana, instead of Joseph Muscat and Etienne Grech, who had resigned. Labour completed the task; the PN ultimately shelved the idea.

It is not clear who came up with the idea to have Farrugia replaced by Bartolo, with sources saying it was Farrugia who approached the PN, and others saying it was the other way round as the PN sought to re-instate Bartolo as an MP after he gave up his seat to Grech.

Both PN general secretary Francis Zammit Dimech and Farrugia declined to comment when contacted.

Farrugia had successfully contested the 2017 election as part of the PN coalition with the Partit Demokratiku, the party she founded soon after resigning from the Labour Party in November 2015. For a time, she was also its leader.

She was elected to Parliament on the 10th district, a strong PN base, but soon after the election the coalition was dissolved after differences between the PD and the new PN leadership, under Adrian Delia. Farrugia, together with her partner Godfrey Farrugia, who had also been elected in 2017 as part of the PN-PD coalition, later resigned from the PD and the two have stayed on as independent MPs.

Bartolo was an MP in this legislature for a few months, in between being elected in a casual election last March to replace Marthese Portelli, who had resigned her seat on the ninth district, and his own resignation to make way for the co-option of Bernard Grech, who had become PN leader instead of Delia. Bartolo did not contest the 10th district, the one from which Marlene Farrugia was elected.

If Farrugia had resigned, the Electoral Commission would have been constitutionally obliged to open a call for applications for a casual election. This would have given all unelected MPs on the 10th district the possibility to take her place.

On this district, the PD had fielded another candidate as part of the PN-PD coalition, Anthony Buttigieg.

The other unelected PN candidates on the district, 16 in all, were Alan Abela Wadge, Graziella Attard Previ, Roselyn Borg Knight, Ray Bugeja, Albert Buttigieg, Justin Fenech, Wayne Hewitt, Noel Muscat, Anne Marie Muscat Fenech Adami, George Pullicino, Nick Refalo, Christopher Sansone, Charles Selvaggi, Evelyn Vella Brincat, Francis Zammit Dimech and Jason Zammit.

For a co-option to take place, all of these candidates would have had to be persuaded to stay away from the casual election. In the end, after the PN mulled the idea for a few days, the matter was dropped.

Farrugia had in the past offered her seat to any politician from outside Parliament who took over from Delia when the latter was facing dissent from within his own ranks.

In a post on Facebook on 26 July, when opposition against Delia had increased and a group of rebel MPs were working to kick him out of the leadership, Farrugia had written: “If the PN elects a leader who is not a Member of Parliament, I will offer my seat provided PN agrees within itself to give that seat to the newly-elected leader”.

It is understood that in October, when Bernard Grech beat Adrian Delia in the leadership election, the PN did not want its new leader to make his way into Parliament instead of Farrugia, largely because having him replace an independent MP would have not appeared appropriate. The PN had therefore accepted Bartolo’s offer to resign for Grech to be co-opted. After Grech’s co-option, the PN and Farrugia discussed the possibility of her resignation in favour of the re-instatement of Bartolo, but the idea was dropped.

Until the end of last year, Farrugia was topping the list of MPs who were fined for not attending parliamentary sessions. She had been fined a total of €950 for unjustified absences, followed by PN MPs Chris Said, Beppe Fenech Adami and Jason Azzopardi, and then Labour deputy leader Chris Cardona, on €500.

Since 2016, legislators who fail to attend a sitting without giving a valid reason are fined €50. MPs need only be in the House for a few minutes to be recorded as present.

 

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