Bernard Grech has been elected the new leader of the Nationalist Party with 69.3 per cent of party members' votes as incumbent Adrian Delia conceded the election on Saturday evening.
The official result was announced by the PN electoral commission at 11pm on Saturday. With a turnout of 85 per cent, Grech claimed 12,633 votes to his opponent's 5,622, while 77 were invalid.
Grech, addressing campaign team members and party colleagues, said the team that he had brought together would continue to grow.
"The Maltese people need this party and this team, and it will keep growing," he said. "I am not perfect, but the people don't want perfection, they want genuineness. They want us to listen to them and to tell them the truth. We have to continue to recognise the people's needs and ensure that the Nationalist Party can once again become the natural party of the Maltese people."
MP Ivan Bartolo has offered to cede his seat to allow Grech to take up his place in Parliament and the role of Opposition leader.
Delia conceded the election before the announcement of an official result.
"Nothing changes for me," he told Times of Malta. "I will give Bernard my full support. I will continue fighting for what I believe in from whichever position I occupy."
Addressing a press conference shortly afterwards, he lamented the resistance within the party to the "revolution" he tried to bring about, reiterated his loyalty to the new leader and indicated he would remain in politics.
Grech, a lawyer and political outsider, emerged as the only challenger to Delia after the incumbent lost a confidence vote in the PN general council in August, following two previous confidence votes lost in the parliamentary group and executive council.
Writing on Facebook before a result had been announced, Grech said: "Today we took the first step towards uniting and renewing this party. Thank you to everyone who made this result possible. I would also like to thank my colleague Adrian Delia, who I am certain will continue to play his part for the good of the party ... The work truly begins now."
Delia earlier said on Facebook: "I have always believed in the will of the people. Our party is alive and strong ... From tomorrow I will work harder than ever before for the party I cherish and the country I love."
The vote followed a three-week campaign in which Grech promised to unite the party and bring renewal and success, with a different way of getting things done.
His campaign was marred by revelations that he had settled a €30,000 tax bill in overdue amounts and had failed to declare a €32,000 income from hosting students, although he shifted the blame for this onto the school.
Grech has acknowledged fault and said he should have done better, but insisted authorities consider the matter closed.
In a statement on Saturday, the Labour Party said Grech's election was a victory for the PN "establishment". It warned that the new leader would return to a politics of "higher bills, migration that allows everyone into the country, and an inferiority complex that will see us bowing our heads to foreigners".
The PL said Grech should, if he wished to be taken seriously, "come clean" on his tax payments and undeclared income.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us