Malta’s Labour Party is experiencing a mini-exodus of sorts with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Etienne Grech resigning from parliament and more allegedly on their way out. However, vacating their positions has put the party in a unique position, a free rein to handpick their next MPs.
The two candidates who could have run for Muscat’s seat have already announced they will not contest for the role. Meanwhile, election rules prevent two casual elections in the same district. Grech himself was elected by casual election.
Miriam Dalli has allegedly already accepted taking one of the seats. She is massively popular, having been elected with the most first-count votes out of any candidate in the 2019 MEP Election.
Bringing her on board would present a significant coup for Prime Minister Robert Abela’s administration. Her environmental credentials and popularity could bring a wave of fresh support amid criticism over hunting issues, over construction, and pollution.
However, her arrival could create tension. She is expected to command a key ministerial role to enter parliament and it seems some key figures in the administration will have to pay the price.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has refused to divulge whether they have identified the second person to benefit from the co-options.
Rumours have suggested that Bormla Mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli, the sister-in-law of Prime Minister Robert Abela, could be in the running. She has told Lovin Malta that she has not been approached yet but is not ruling out anything for the time being.
Zerafa Civelli’s appointment could create major issues. While she has a political career in her own right and would present an improvement on Malta’s dwindling female representation in parliament, her appointment by co-option would raise further questions on nepotism in Malta.
Abela might be willing to brave the ferocious criticism to allow a close ally into parliament. It might also help soothe things over in the 2nd District. Despite being a Labour Party stronghold, none of the MPs elected off the district are ministers in Abela’s cabinet.
Other candidates might be interested. Lawyer Andy Ellul just missed out on getting elected through the casual election on Grech’s district.
He already missed out on running in a casual election when Konrad Mizzi refused to resign from parliament despite being booted out of the party. Ellul may be interested in making another foray into the political sphere. He has indicated he would be ready to offer his services if approached.
These past two years have already seen major changes to the Labour Party parliamentary group. Former Minister Helena Dalli moved to Brussels last year. In contrast, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former minister Chris Cardona, and former minister Konrad Mizzi all resigned in disgrace due to the political crisis after the government’s links to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Casual elections have so far seen Jean Claude Micallef and Ian Castaldi Paris elected as Labour Party MPs. This time, Abela will be able to take his pick, whoever that may be.
It seems the Labour Party exodus might not stop here with former Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana also allegedly looking to leave parliament. She’s been handsomely rewarded with lucrative consultancies ever since resigning in the wake of revelations’ her husband’s relationship with Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
Former MP Franco Mercieca and Joe Cordina could be in the running to take Caruana’s seat on the 13th District (Gozo) if they submit their nominations for the casual elections. However, Abela could be eying more manoeuvring to bring his supporters into the House of Representatives.
It is not just an issue plaguing the Labour Party. The PN has already seen its fair share of MP replacements. After the 2017 general election, the party immediately co-opted Carm Mifsud Bonnici and Frederick Azzopardi due to a corrective mechanism.
It has continued since then. The PN’s last two party leaders, Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech were never elected to parliament and were brought in through co-option. Kevin Cutajar was also elected by co-option following a dubious internal party vote. David Thake won a casual election for Simon Busuttil’s vacated seat.
Whatever the case, what’s clear is that Malta’s parliament could be slowly becoming a forum for unelected officials handpicked by the state or opposition party.
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