Updated 7.20pm with Labour comments

Birkirkara's most popular Labour councillor Yana Borg Debono Grech has blocked a party plan to nominate independent candidate Kaylocke Buhagiar as town mayor.

During a 20-minute council meeting on Tuesday evening, councillors held a vote to decide who will be mayor six times. 

Five out of six Labour councillors voted for Buhagiar to be the locality’s next mayor, while all PN councillors voted against.

And Borg Debono Grech, who won more votes than any other candidate in last month's Birkirkara local council elections, rebelled against her own party by voting against Buhagiar's nomination. 

She later wrote that she intended to "remain loyal to Labour".

"Politics should be a means for people like me, who win people's trust, to do all they can to serve their constituents in the best possible manner," she wrote on Facebook. "I remain open to finding a solution that reflects the wishes of Birkirkara voters." 

The Labour Party issued its own statement to note that an initial vote held during the council's first meeting and proposing Borg Debono Grech as mayor had failed to obtain a majority of votes among councillors. 

It said the party was ready "to keep working to find a solution that gives a stable council and that benefits Birkirkara and its residents.”

PN councillor to serve as interim mayor

A separate vote proposing PN councillor Desirei Grech as mayor was also voted down by Labour councillors and Buhagiar. 

But since councillors could not agree on who should be mayor, Grech will serve as interim mayor for three months, as the PN won most votes in the Birkirkara election. 

Another vote for mayor will be held in three months' time.

PN councillor, a notary and NET news journalist, Desirei Grech, will be Birkirkara's interim mayor. Photo: FacebookPN councillor, a notary and NET news journalist, Desirei Grech, will be Birkirkara's interim mayor. Photo: Facebook

After being sworn in as interim mayor, Desirei Grech said now is the time for the councillors to “put their differences aside” and to work towards improving the locality. 

“My door will always be open, for anyone, let us come together, speak together and push for a better locality,” she said.

Locked in stalemate

Birkirkara was one of several localities that found itself with a hung council after independent councillor Kaylocke Buhagiar was elected, with the remaining seats going evenly between the PL and PN. The PN, however, won the biggest number of votes. 

Malta’s electoral law says that the candidate who obtains the most votes from the party that wins the most seats becomes mayor but, in cases such as this where no one party wins a majority of seats, the matter is taken to a vote amongst councillors.

Borg Debono Grech won more votes than any other candidate, pipping Desirei Grech to the post by just three votes (1,805 to Grech’s 1,802).

She had previously revealed a proposal by PL councillors for her to be made mayor, with Buhagiar taking the vice-mayor role. She said that plan was shot down after PN councillors and Buhagiar himself voted against it.

Throughout Tuesday there were repeated rumours that Borg Debono Grech - the daughter of former Birkirkara mayor Joanne Debono Grech and granddaughter of former Labour Minister Joe Debono Grech - was deeply unhappy with the party's decision to back Buhagiar, who had quit Labour to run as an independent.

She could not be reached for comment. 

'Someone decided to deprive a woman'

In a Facebook post, former Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar voiced her support for Borg Debono Grech.  

“Her grandfather and mother are pillars in the Labour Party who have always loved the Karkarisi and Birkirkara,” she said. 

“We made a mechanism to strengthen the representation of women in parliament, and at the same time, someone decided to deprive a woman, Yana, from serving as Mayor.

"I wonder, in whose interest is the decision being taken?”

Cutajar was effectively ousted from Labour's parliamentary group last year after text messages between herself and Yorgen Fenech were leaked. Prime Minister Robert Abela subsequently said he would allow her back in, provided she apologised. Cutajar has not done so. 

In her Facebook post, Cutajar said the PL is in no position to keep hurting people and to reject good people who have always been there for the party.

Borg Debono Grech is not the only PL councillor who has felt a sting from the party.

Valletta's former mayor Alfred Zammit has hinted that he is open to quitting Labour, saying some people within the party worked against him in the run-up to last month's local council elections.

Zammit, who was reelected to the Valletta council but displaced as mayor, told Times of Malta he felt "very underappreciated" by sectors of the Labour Party during the electoral campaign. 

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