Żebbuġ councillor Peter Micallef has won the sixth district seat vacated by former Social Policy Minister John Dalli, beating his only other rival in a casual election yesterday.

Dr Micallef, a family doctor, inherited 2,644 votes from Mr Dalli, beating Siġġiewi mayor Robert Musumeci, who obtained 1,045 votes. The quota to get elected was 1,879.

The casual election, held in a small hall at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, in Valletta, was closely followed by agents of the two major parties. Labour Party functionaries even took note of each vote transfer.

Conceding defeat before the vote sorting exercise was over, Mr Musumeci confirmed that he had had "cordial" meetings with the Prime Minister in the run-up to the casual election after finding himself at the centre of a storm whipped up by columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had shed doubt on the mayor's political allegiance because of his relationship with Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera and acquaintances from the Labour Party.

He would not say what was discussed with Lawrence Gonzi but denied the Prime Minister had asked him not to contest, as claimed in other media.

He insisted democracy required that he put his name forward for the casual election.

"I will continue to militate in the Nationalist Party," the architect told journalists after it became clear Dr Micallef would win.

Evidently happy with the result, Dr Micallef thanked voters for the trust they placed in him but did not comment on the government's healthcare reform proposals when asked about the matter.

"I have my opinion on the reform and I will be making it public at a later stage. But now is not the occasion," he said.

The doctor reiterated his terse reply when asked whether in principle he agreed with free healthcare for all.

His comments came in the wake of serious opposition to the government's health reform from PN backbenchers Jean Pierre Farrugia and former parliamentary secretary Frans Agius.

Dr Farrugia has even threatened not to vote for the reform as it stands today.

At one point the lights in the hall dimmed for a few seconds after somebody accidentally hit the dimmer switch. The incident brought a smile on people's faces when somebody suggested it was because of the higher water and electricity bills.

The vote sorting process started at about 9 a.m. and finished two hours later.

The casual election was called after Mr Dalli stepped down to become a European commissioner.

Dr Micallef's victory means he will resign from the Żebbuġ council and a casual election will have to be held to fill his seat there.


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