Gavin Gulia’s election to parliament and his resignation from the House minutes after being sworn in were not pre-arranged, according to Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, who came a close second in Tuesday's casual election.

“I have my reasons to believe that it was not pre-arranged. Having said that, I am not privy to the discussions held between my old friend Gavin and Prime Minister Abela,” Pullicino Orlando told Times of Malta. 

Guliaresigned from parliament on Wednesday afternoon, moments after being sworn in, a move described by the Nationalist Party as manipulative and contemptuous of parliament.  

Gulia in a brief statement said the prime minister had asked him to stay on as chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority, something not possible if he is an MP. 

His resignation opened the door for the government to choose whoever it wishes to fill the vacant parliamentary seat. 

Labour sources said on Wednesday that Oliver Scicluna, the Commissioner for Rights of Persons with Disability, is to be co-opted to the House.  

Also on Wednesday, Charles Azzopardi, the third candidate in the casual election, slammed the manoeuvres by the government and said he himself had not stood a chance of being elected because of a block vote against him in the 2017 general election.

The casual election was called after Finance Minister Edward Scicluna resigned to become governor of the Central Bank. 

In casual elections, the ballots of the departing MP are opened so that they can be assigned to the voters' second preference. 

Pullicino Orlando said he did not see any underhand manoeuvring.  

“I am very satisfied with the result I obtained. I came very close to being elected, despite a short 10-day campaign (before the general election). I am grateful to my constituents for placing their confidence in me, once again,” he said, adding that Abela had “encouraged” him to continue spearheading the country’s efforts in the field of research and innovation by staying on as chairman of the Malta Council for Science and Technology. 

“The recent appointment of a minister for the sector is a clear sign that this administration is determined to place the sector at the forefront of the national agenda,” he said.

According to the PN, Gulia's reappointment as chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority needs to go through the process of scrutiny by the House Committee on Public Appointments. It said it expected the tourism minister not to reappoint Gulia behind parliament's back in breach of the law.

In a statement on Thursday, civil society NGO Repubblika condemned the prime minister's  “arrogant and cynical manoeuvres” to get his own people in Parliament, pointing out that in one year, he had put in the House three people who had not gained a single vote from the people in the last general election.

Even worse, it seemed that Abela did this to push out a person who had been democratically chosen as an MP.

It wondered if Robert Abela should be declared emperor so that he could choose MPs himself instead of the people. It called on Abela to stop playing with democracy and said this episode was another argument in favour of  parliamentary reform.

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