The Malta Independent 23 January 2021, Saturday

PM made Gulia contest casual election to keep Azzopardi, JPO out – PL sources

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 14 January 2021, 11:12 Last update: about 8 days ago

Robert Abela pressured Gavin Gulia to contest Tuesday’s casual election because he did not want either Charles Azzopardi or Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando to take Edward Scicluna’s seat, Labour Party insiders told The Malta Independent.

Gulia shocked the nation on Wednesday when he resigned from Parliament seconds after he was sworn in as an MP. He said he had been asked by the Prime Minister to stay on as Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority at this “crucial” time.

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Just a day earlier, in comments after he was elected, Gulia had said he would resign his MTA role after being elected. He also thanked all his constituents for “returning” him to Parliament after a gap of some years. “I will do my utmost to be a good Member of Parliament,” he told journalists at the counting hall.

The Labour Party sources said Gulia never wanted to contest the casual election but was asked to do so by PM and party leader Robert Abela.

“The party had done the maths and knew that he was the most likely winner in this election. Obviously, the leadership did not want Azzopardi to win the seat, since he has now become a lifetime Nationalist Party member.”

The sources continued that Abela also did not want Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando to be elected to Parliament. The former PN MP and current chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology is deemed to be too close to former PM Joseph Muscat and his close circle. 

‘Pre-arranged’

The sources explained that Gulia contested the casual election having already decided that he would resign later. It had already been agreed that Gulia would stay on at the MTA and resign his seat, opening the way for the PL to co-opt someone else to Parliament.

The sources said Gulia’s resignation from MTA, and his subsequent swearing in and lightning-fast resignation from Parliament were “nothing but a charade.”

The entire thing happened so fast that, by the time the Department of Information announced his resignation from MTA, he had already told Parliament that he had accepted the PM’s invitation to stay on at the tourism authority. 

A legal quandary

But the move seems to have created a legal and procedural quandary, as the PN has pointed out. It said that if the MTA intends to appoint Gulia as its chairman again, he has to be vetted once more by Parliament’s Public Appointments Committee.

Gulia did not actually have to resign from MTA. While a report by Standards Commissioner George Hyzler had opined that MPs should not serve as heads of state entities, there is nothing in the law as such to preclude this from happening. Since he has now resigned, however, he needs to appear before the Parliamentary committee once more if he is to take his tourism role back. 

Co-options

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, Oliver Scicluna, is expected to be co-opted to Parliament by the Labour Party.

It seems that co-opting people to Parliament is becoming a trend for Robert Abela.

Labour has already co-opted Miriam Dalli and Clyde Caruana, who replaced Joseph Muscat and Etienne Grech following their resignations. The situation there was different. There were no rebel candidates like Charles Azzopardi. The candidates who were eligible for that election were told not to contest, and they obeyed.

This time round, the PM did not have that luxury. In fact, Azzopardi, the former Rabat mayor who has since become a lifelong PN member was the first one to throw his name in the hat. In order to get to the co-option stage, the PL first had to get Gulia to contest and win the casual election.

Co-options are not such a rarity in Maltese politics, but they are usually used for more genuine reasons. Peter Micallef resigned his parliamentary seat just minutes after he was sworn in, in 2017. But hid did this so that Adrian Delia, who had just been elected PN Leader, could become and MP and take up his Constitutional role as Leader of the Opposition. Furthermore, Micallef had said, before the election, that he would give up his seat for Delia if he were to be elected.

Wednesday’s case was very different and Prime Minister Abela is facing harsh criticism over the move, with many, including the Opposition saying that he is disrespecting the democratic process.

 

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