Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said today that he was seeking a secret vote of confidence in his leadership of the Nationalist Party.
Concluding an extraordinary meeting of the PN General Council, Dr Gonzi said he was writing to the President of the PN council, seeking a secret vote in his leadership. The councillors, he said, would also be asked to state if they would rather have a new leader. Should that be the case, he would support a new leader unconditionally.
Dr Gonzi made his declaration at the end of an hour-long speech in which he never mentioned Franco Debono by name, but said that what happened on Thursday (when Dr Debono abstained in the no-confidence vote in parliament) meant that it was not business as usual for the government.
He said he was assuming responsibility for the decisions he had taken. In hindsight, some decisions could have been taken differently, he said. But undeniably, the government's policies had yielded results and the country was performing better than its neighbours.
Should he win the confidence vote, Dr Gonzi said, he would use all his energy to ensure that this government continued to serve until the end of this legislature, in the national interest. He would also work to ensure that the PN embraced all ideas and all those who wished to work within in.
At the opening of his speech Dr Gonzi recalled how six months ago he was invited to an activity for families who have children with special needs. At the time he met parents who have twins who suffer a very rare disability.
He was impressed by the courage and commitment of the parents, and their sacrifices. This morning, during the council meeting, he received an SMS from the mother of those twins who told him that she had gone through terrible times but the life of one of her twins had been saved.
This, Dr Gonzi was for him a vote of confidence and we was extremely pleased. (applause). For him, politics was a service, Dr Gonzi said, and this SMS was therefore extremely welcome. Without such service, there would be no value for politics.
Dr Gonzi said Malta was going through a challenging time, but this was a time to take courage so that the party and the country could attain their aims. This council meeting was convened after the PN executive discussed developments (on Franco Debono). The PN did not preach its rules, but also practised them. The situation demanded calm and serenity as decisions were taken in the national interest.
Dr Gonzi noted how Joseph Muscat was seeking an early election, claiming it would solve the country's problems. He firmly believed, Dr Gonzi said, that this was not the time for an election.
Not that the PN was scared of an election. It always played the democratic game and always respected the will of the people, even when its supporters suffered vindictive transfers, when its supporters were assaulted and shot at...(applause)
He had declared on Thursday in parliament that if the no-confidence vote was lost, he would immediately seek a general election. He had also said that an objective analysis of the situation showed how in current circumstances, Malta should not have an early election. One was sometimes tempted to get the election over with, he said, more so when Dr Muscat claimed he was the underdog.
But what was at stake were people's jobs and the economy as a whole. The economy was doing well, all considered. Malta's situation was far from that of, say Greece. Malta had not been forced to scale back social services, impose University fees or sack public sector workers. A political price was paid for the sacrifices and tough decisions taken in Malta, but that was far better than seeing the country humiliated like other countries were, Dr Gonzi said (applause). So why the panic, why the craving for power by the leader of the opposition, why was he fomenting instability?
True, the government did not achieve a majority of votes in Parliament last Thursday as a Nationalist MP abstained. But he abstained. He did not vote with the Opposition.
Dr Gonzi said he would not enter into the merits for this abstention.
Not everyone agreed with his own decisions, Dr Gonzi said. That was normal. He disagreed with the method and style how disagreement was expressed, but there was nothing wrong in expressing disagreement.
What had resulted on Thursday was that for the Opposition, the over-riding interest was not the national interest. Its lack of seriousness was shown how, in presenting its no-confidence motion it did not present its own alternatives. Joseph Muscat criticised the government, but did not give alternatives.
It also resulted on Thursday that the Opposition, on its own, was unable to topple the government, much as it wanted to (applause and cheers).
Yet the Opposition could not accept defeat and was claiming to have won. This recalled Labour's reaction to the outcome of the EU referendum. At the time, Labour also did not win enough votes, but it claimed to have won by stealing the votes of Nanna Olga (cheers). Labour had not changed. Muscat had succeeded Dr Sant but nothing had changed.
Labour claimed that the PN was clinging for the seat of power. The truth was that Labour was desperate for the seat of power, Dr Gonzi said.
He said that after the opposition no-confidence motion was defeated, he as prime minister had a duty to continue to govern was as long as he enjoyed confidence.
However, as he said on Sunday, there was need for clarity.
On Thursday, a government MP had abstained, and this created serious difficulties for the government and cast doubts on how the government could continue with its programme until the end of the term. One justly asked how this government could continue if this situation, and abstentions, persisted.
On Thursday, after the vote, he had said that the situation was not business as usual and he would refer the matter to the highest echelons of the PN to see if he had the full confidence of the PN.
Therefore, Dr Gonzi said, he was asking a fundamental question. Did he as prime minister deserve confidence to continue to govern for the remainder of the term? (standing ovation, shouts of approval).
Dr Gonzi recalled how on Thursday he explained how the government deserved the confidence of parliament and the people. The government, he said was achieving good results. But the storm was persisting and nothing could be guaranteed. But he had one thing in his favour - his record. And only he and the government held this record. Others just had words.
Malta was overcoming the economic challenges, slowly but surely thanks to the people, Dr Gonzi said. The government, he said, had taken tough decisions to safeguard jobs. It took decisions which workers considered to be unimportant, but they were vital for jobs, such as decisions on waste management, he said.
Dr Muscat said Dr Muscat had been 'indecent and scandalous' when prior to the no confidence debate, Labour also presented a guillotine motion to limit speaking time. That was a 'tear gas motion' akin to old Labour, he said.
And to make a bad situation worse, after the no confidence motion was lost, Dr Muscat even compared this government to the Labour government of 1981. This, Dr Gonzi said, was an insult to democracy and the people who in 1981 were robbed of the government they had voted for. The present government, Dr Gonzi said, had the people's mandate to govern. In 1981, Labour did not, and it governed for a full five-year term, right down to the last Saturday. If Dr Muscat did not have the moral fibre to make this distinction, then this Opposition was worse than that of Alfred Sant and the others before it, because it was twisting history.
The present government would not spend a single day in power if it did not have confidence.
However Dr Muscat had to shoulder the consequences of his declarations. The 1981 government included Karmenu Vella, now writing the PL electoral programme. There were Joe Debono Grech, Alex Sceberras Trigona, Leo Brincat, George Vella, Alfred Sant, Marie-Louise Coleiro and others. If the1981 government was illegitimate, then Dr Muscat should be calling for those people to go.
APPEAL FOR UNITY
Dr Gonzi said he was appealing to all the members of the PN to be united in such difficult times. There could be many reasons, even justified reasons, to criticise his decisions. With hindsight, he realised that he could have acted differently in some instances.
He shouldered responsibility for his decisions, but despite everything, the government's policies and actions had yielded results and Malta had managed to remain competitive and attractive for investment.
Dr Gonzi said he remained open to all ideas so that the government and the PN remained inclusive. He remained open for all those who wished to work to be able to work within the government and the party, as long as they all rowed in the same direction. He remained open to ensure that the PN and the government represented all the colours of the rainbow. He remained open for all those who wished to contribute in the national interest.
Dr Gonzi said it was the Opposition which was fomenting instability. There would have been instability had there been the huge unemployment of other countries, with the workers having no chance of finding work; if public sector workers were sacked; if social benefits and pay were reduced or students had to pay for their education.
The government's policies, he said, yielded stability.
He regretted, Dr Gonzi said, that councillors had not been invited to speak in this meeting, and he was explain his reasons.
Dr Muscat was trying to make use of somebody else to achieve his aims and calling for an early election. But an election would be called only if there was no choice.
NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL
Dr Gonzi reiterated that the government was not business as usual after what happened on Thursday. He was shouldering his responsibilities (applause) and therefore in order to continue to lead he needed the PN to be fully behind him in the most clear and categorical manners (applause).
Dr Gonzi said he was not seeking only applause and would therefore subject his leadership to the scrutiny of the councillors. He was submitting a letter to the president of the council seeking a secret vote to confirm him as leader or to select a new leader, whom he would support unconditionally.
Should he be confirmed as leader, he would use all his energy for the government to continue to work up to the end of this legislature and he would open the party to all those who wished to work within it, Dr Gonzi said.
I am prepared to continue to serve, because I still believe that together, everything is possible, Dr Gonzi concluded.
10.56 a.m. Marthese Portelli, president of the PN executive said the PN was all embracing. It was the party of change and reform, a party which did not gag anyone. The PN always triumphed because it sought the common good. It was not a perfect party because it was a party which was alive (applause). She praised the prime minister for not shirking from challenges and for taking tough decisions. He was always ready to seek solutions for the best of the country.
Malta had its problems, she said but it had a lot of positives which overseas organisations had recognised. Little wonder, therefore, that the Opposition's no confidence motion did not come accompanied by reasons.
In the absence of a PL vision for the country, Dr Portelli said she could only comment on PN policies. She went on to praise PN government policies for women, education, health, the family and job creation. She pointed out how Labour in 1996 promised to retain student stipends, but then Evarist Bartolo converted them to loans. Now Mr Bartolo was being proposed as Labour's new education minister.
She urged all her listeners to set up their contribution to the party and the country.
10.35 a.m. PN General Secretary Paul Borg Olivier said this council meeting was a declaration of support for Lawrence Gonzi. In the wake of recent developments, the PN had to make a clear choice, "a choice between we and I, a choice between individual and common good."
He said Joseph Muscat was hungry for power. He lost the vote in parliament but arrogantly said he had won. The PN, he said, had to take a clear decision to consolidate and improve what it had achieved, rather than to demolish it.
Everybody knew what the PN stood for, he said. This was the time for a clear choice on leadership, between a careful and experienced prime minister and a leader of the opposition with no programme and no track record. Muscat was speaking of 'new era' but he was presenting a political desert, dry of any ideas. Yesterday, on Dissett, Dr Muscat said he selected his candidates on the basis of their views of the future. Yet he was not saying how his party viewed the future.
Dr Borg Olivier praised Dr Gonzi for having, through the various difficulties, never lost his focus on job creation. He praised him for his love for the country, for the confidence he always showed in its people, and for his humanity. His leadership, he said, was inspirational.
He urged one and all to do their duty for the party and the country.
10.21 - Foreign Minister Tonio Borg kicks off the list of speakers. He says Joseph Muscat went to parliament on Thursday hoping to emerge as prime minister, but he still emerged as Opposition leader (applause).
He said the PN had space for everyone, Different views strengthened it, but no one was bigger than the party and its vision, and all should be united behind its vision. The party should be united but not regimented. It should have many soldiers ut only one leader, only one prime minister (applause). Party leaders were appointed and removed through the democratic process within the party, and not beyond.
Dr Gonzi, he said had acted with prudence. He was flexible. He was open to ideas and proposals. But there could be no compromises on support for the government. Referring to Franco Debono's proposals, Dr Borg said the PN wanted party financing legislation and had mentioned it in the President's Address. It was ready to present such a Bill to parliament and the private member's motion (presented by Franco Debono) pending before the House could be a good basis for this legislation.
Dr Borg said the government had also, since 2008, wanted to bring about Constitutional change and it nominated a parliamentary select committee for this purpose. Much progress was made until May 2010 when the Opposition withdrew from the committee on a blatant excuse. However there could be a fresh effort involving everyone to bring about changes in the Constitution, the electoral laws and other laws to oversee the government.
For example, the government felt that all those who turned 18 should have the right to vote at a general election, even if they were not yet included in the last electoral register.
Dr Borg said the PN government's record in legislation on rights issues was second to none, and this was a process which would be continued. He then went on to list such legislation to grant more rights for redress from government decisions and to remove discrimination.
"We are a party which moves from one reform to another. Some even say we hurry too much and people are given no time to digest the reforms," Dr Borg said. He said the council should be kept up to date with developments. It had always triumphed through its crises because it always interpreted the wishes of the people, and that was what it would continue to do.
10.15 a.m. - The minutes of the last meeting are read. They include a declaration by Franco Debono at the last meeting that he would continue to work in the PN and his call for approval of election candidates. Councillors do not react.
10 a.m. The extraordinary meeting of the PN general council got underway this morning, with the councillors who are packing the hall at PN headquarters giving an enthusiastic welcome to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi as he entered the hall.
They also chanted Ghax Ghandna l-Gonzi Maghna Ahna Maghqudin.
He waved with both hands as he took his seat on the stage, flanked by council president Paula Mifsud Bonnici and PN General Secretary Paul Borg Olivier.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici opened proceedings with a prayer. She recalled how the council was convened by the executive on January 11 in view of the unfolding political situation.
"This is a particular council meeting in particular circumstances for the party and a few days after Joseph Muscat lost his no confidence motion which had no motivation," she said. She said the events in parliament showed how the militants had the upper hand in the Labour Party and how Joseph Muscat's overriding interest was his hunger for power.
She said that over the past few days the people could compare Dr Muscat with Dr Gonzi. Dr Muscat had rushed and slipped in parliament, Dr Gonzi showed his exceptional experience by remaining focused, calm and determined while being ready to bow his head to the will of the people.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici said the council's role was to ensure that the prime minister could continue to work in the interest of the country. The party, she said, was built on dialogue and it should consider how all the members would continue to support the policies of this party in government to create jobs, attract investment, maintain social benefits, invest in health, education and keep the country modern and up to date.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici said the PN always faced its challenges and she was confident the PN as a whole would be able to back its policies and it would continue with its duty to continue to govern.