Updated 6.20pm

Gavin Gulia resigned from parliament on Wednesday afternoon, minutes after being sworn in after winning a casual election.

The Labour MP in a brief statement said that the prime minister had asked him to stay on as chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority in view of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 situation. He was also needed to pilot the authority's 2020 strategic plan.

He was therefore resigning from the House. 

His departure means that the government is now free to choose anyone to fill the vacant seat, by co-option.

More than an hour after Gulia's statement in the House, the Tourism Ministry issued a two-line statement stating that Gulia had resigned his post as MTA chairman earlier on Wednesday, before being sworn in as MP.

The law regulating the Malta Tourism Authority states that no one can be a member of the authority if he or she is an MP. But the government would have been unable to go for a co-option unless Gulia was sworn in to parliament.  

A ministry spokesperson said Gulia would be reappointed to the MTA post.  

Gulia was re-elected to the House on Tuesday to fill the seat vacated by former finance minister Edward Scicluna, now Governor of the Central Bank.

Sources close to the Labour Party told Times of Malta that Gulia's replacement in parliament has already been identified.

Żebbuġ mayor Malcolm Galea was among those mentioned by party insiders in the minutes following Gulia's resignation.

But party sources later said that Oliver Scicluna, who currently serves as the country's disability commissioner, was likely to be the person co-opted in his stead.

Gulia had submitted his nomination for the casual election on Friday, one day before nominations closed and when just one candidate - Labour outcast Charles Azzopardi - was in the running. Former PN MP and current Malta Council for Science and Technology chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando also ended up contesting the seat, losing out to Gulia by 466 votes. 

In the minutes after securing the parliamentary seat, Gulia had indicated that he intended to resign as MTA chairman. 

"Yes, yes," he told journalists when asked if he planned to resign. 

When asked on Tuesday, Gulia indicated he planned to resign as MTA chair. On Wednesday, he instead quit as MP to remain in the post. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Attempts to contact Gulia on Wednesday following his resignation from parliament were unsuccessful. 

Gulia also served as MP between 1996 and 2013, serving as parliamentary secretary for the self-employed and later as justice minister in the short-lived Alfred Sant administration. 

Not the first time an MP has resigned within minutes

There have been other instances when MPs resigned immediately on being sworn in.

The most recent was in October 2017 when former Nationalist MP Peter Micallef, re-elected by casual election, resigned within minutes to make way for the co-option of new PN leader Adrian Delia.

In 2017, soon after being elected in the general election, the PN's Therese Comodini Cachia surprised anyone by announcing she was renouncing her seat to stay on as an MEP. A public outcry later led her to reverse her decision

PN criticises the prime minister for ignoring will of the people

On Wednesday, however, the PN criticised Prime Minister Robert Abela over Gulia's resignation, saying that the prime minister was interested only in his own and the Labour Party's interests. It said Abela had ridiculed parliament.

No one believed that Abela and Gulia had not planned this manoeuvre, with "utter contempt for the will of the electorate," the PN said. 

"Robert Abela is yet again manipulating the democratic system to put his own people in parliament and not the candidates who the people would have chosen," the PN said.

It was referring to the way how in October former MEP Miriam Dalli and the prime minister's former chief of staff, Clyde Caruana, were also co-opted to the House, and subsequently made ministers.  

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