The wheels have been set in motion for Labour Party to vote for a new leader and Prime Minister by January 18, but it is still unclear if Joseph Muscat plans to hang on until then.

Party delegates will initially vote on January 8 before members choose between the two last standing candidates on January 18, just before parliament resumes after the Christmas recess, sources told Times of Malta

Pressure is growing on Joseph Muscat to leave at once and others are urging him to stay on a day after he informed associates he intended to step down as Prime Minister as soon as Yorgen Fenech is charged with Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder.

Initial plans to hand over the reins imminently to deputy prime minister Chris Fearne appear to have been ditched, with Dr Muscat possibly staying on until the leadership election.

Many within his own party say Dr Muscat has no choice but to leave office at once lest more damage is inflicted on the country and his own Labour Party. 

Dr Muscat visited President George Vella on Friday morning at San Anton Palace, where he is believed to have given notice of his intention to step down.  

Sources said Dr Muscat will be delivering a televised address to the country after Yorgen Fenech is charged in court with the murder of the 53-year-old journalist. 

He will then kickstart a leadership process within the Labour Party.

Joseph risks destroying his own successful legacy if he plans to drag out his resignation

Party insiders said some MPs and officials close to Dr Muscat are planning to openly make calls for Dr Muscat to ditch his plans to step down, or at least stay on until January. 

One TV anchor Karl Stagno Navarra urged supporters to light a candle and place it on their porches in support of Dr Muscat on Friday after the Labour Party cancelled a mass meeting planned for Sunday.

But party sources who spoke to Times of Malta said the longer Dr Muscat stayed in the role the more harm will be caused for his successor. 

"The fact that his friend and right-hand man Keith Schembri was linked to the murder should have been enough for him to step down. Joseph risks destroying his own successful legacy if he plans to drag out his resignation."

Civil society protesters have repeatedly said that the only way out of the impasse is for Dr Muscat to leave office at once. 

Apart from Dr Fearne, Labour MEP Miriam Dalli, Minister Ian Borg, MP Robert Abela and possibly Konrad Mizzi have been named as contenders in the race.

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