Nationalist leader Lawrence Gonzi announced today that he was assuming complete and total responsibility for the general election defeat and was stepping down from the party leadership.

He said he would not be a candidate when the party held the election of its leader and deputy leader as it was required to do in terms of its statute after a general election.

He also told a press conference this afternoon that the party bowed its head to the the people's verdict.

"I promise that my colleagues and myself will continue to serve the people and their country. This country had potential and can overcome its challenges. We will continue to work for the country's progress, this time from the Opposition," Dr Gonzi said.

"We will serve with honesty and loyalty."

He congratulated the Labour Party and its leader Joseph Muscat.

"He is now the prime minister, and he deserves respect and recognition as the person  who has to lead the country in the challenges which it faces," he said. The burden, he said, was a heavy one.

Dr Gonzi said he had no doubt that the PN would contribute its share for the country to continue to move forward and to create jobs.

He thanked all those who had worked with the government as well as those who had worked in the Nationalist Party.

"I shoulder total and complete responsibility for what has happened," Dr Gonzi said.

He thanked all those who had voted for the PN and said his message was one of courage.

"Stay positive, continue believing in the country which can overcome the rough weather which engulfed other countries," he said.

The PN, he said, would need to re-examine itself, re-establish its roots and renew itself.

He said he would not participate in the the process for the election of a new leader of the party but would do his part to ensure that the party was modernised.

Dr Gonzi said he was not completely surprised by the extent of the election defeat, but it had been difficult to make a complete assessment because of the large number of undecided voters.

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