Labour leadership contender George Abela yesterday said he was not disheartened by the fact that the proposal to allow paid-up members to vote for a new leader was shot down.

Dr Abela was the first person to publicly moot the idea of changing the party's statute to allow both members and delegates the chance to vote for the party leader on June 5 and his supporters were banking on it.

However, the delegates poured cold water on this proposal during Friday's extraordinary general meeting, with 620 out of 793 delegates voting against the motion.

Preferring to look at a glass half full, Dr Abela said the fact that 165 delegates actually voted in favour of this fresh idea, for the party to be inclusive, was "satisfactory" and showed people wanted change within the party.

Speaking during a discussion meeting for Gozitans at the Kempinski Hotel in San Lawrenz, Dr Abela called on the MLP to publish the report about what led to the general election defeat before the June 5 leadership election.

"What value would this report have if it is not discussed? The Labourites need to know the reasons why their party lost the election and this has to be published and discussed before the leadership election so that whoever is aspiring to become leader will know the exact reasons why the party lost," he said.

Dr Abela made a formal apology to university students for the way they were treated in the run-up to the general election. He was clearly referring to the name-calling that ensued after the noisy debate between the leaders of the four political parties on campus during the electoral campaign.

Most students present at the University assembly hall in February were sympathetic to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, with very little support having been expressed for then Labour leader Alfred Sant. This had led top-ranking MLP officials to call the students low and vulgar, among other names.

A University student asked Dr Abela what he planned to do to become more popular with University students if elected party leader.

"I apologise for the way the students were treated before the general election. I will never attack the person (who disagrees with us), whoever it is. I attack the message but never the messenger. This is my style. I understand students and I assure them a bright future," he said.

Dr Abela said this was a crucial time for the party, which was at the crossroads and needed to make the right decision in order to start winning.

"For us to win there has to be a change. Without a change there is no future for the party. We should not be scared of change," he said.

Distributing flowers to all mothers present, with the largest bouquet going to his wife Margaret, Dr Abela proposed the idea of calling a regional general conference in Gozo to discuss the plan the party prepared two years ago.

"Gozo should not be left out of the country's socio-economic development. We have to look into the effect low-cost airlines and cruise liners have on Gozo. We need proactive policies for this island," he said.

Dr Abela said that, from June 6, the party had to show that it had changed because "the leadership is credible, consistent and can guarantee peace of mind".

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