Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said tonight that Parliament would be dissolved on January 7 and the general election would be held on March 9.

Speaking at a press conference, he said the Government had served its mandate in difficult times and now the process leading to a general election would kick off.

 Dr Gonzi said he was proud with what the country had achieved, shortly after backbencher Franco Debono voted with the Labour Party against the Budget.

The country had passed major tests which brought other countries to their knees. The Government created jobs and raised education standards.

Dr Gonzi said the country had firm foundations and a programme to advance.

In the coming days, the PN would also publish the electoral programme for the next five years.

The people knew where they stood with the PN but had no idea where the Labour Party stood and what its programme was.

Dr Gonzi said tomorrow he would convene a Cabinet meeting and then call on the President to advise him to dissolve Parliament on January 7, after the festive season.

If Parliament was dissolved immediately, the distribution of voting documents would have to take place over Christmas.

Various factors had gone into the selection of the election date, including the fact that last month the Government had to nominate a new European Commissioner and his party had to select a new deputy leader, Simon Busuttil, of whom he was very proud.

Dr Gonzi said Franco Debono was now a closed chapter and so was the Budget. Now the election was beckoning and he was determined to win it.

"Franco Debono is irrelevant," Dr Gonzi said, when asked by reporters about his thoughts about the backbencher who hounded his Government. 

He said he would go for the election with the extraordinary certificate of the Opposition having said it was prepared to adopt the Government's Budget.

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