The gap between the two Labour leadership hopefuls has narrowed at the start of the final week of campaigning.

The latest internal poll, finalised on Sunday, has Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne at 58 per cent, with Cabinet advisor Robert Abela trailing with 42 per
cent of the vote. The margin of error is five per cent.

Previous instalments of the poll, conducted by Labour’s chief pollster Vincent Marmara, had Mr Fearne at a significantly higher advantage, with some 68 per cent support – 10 points higher than the latest figures.

Party insiders said there had been a noticeable shift in the mood, with Dr Abela enjoying a boost in support in recent days.

The race to replace outgoing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, they said, was suddenly looking closer as voting day draws closer.

On Saturday, thousands of paid-up Labour members will vote for a new leader and prime minister.

A new poll will be handed over to the Labour Party by the close of business today.

On Monday, Times of Malta reported how Dr Abela had filed a formal complaint with the PL’s electoral commission, alleging vote rigging.

According to the complaint, three of Mr Fearne’s campaigners had been found in an electoral office at Labour HQ and were settling overdue membership fees
of some 200 party members.

In a statement, the PL on Monday said that the complaint contained a number of false assertions, “including the allegation that canvassers of a candidate
were inputting data”.

The PL’s electoral commission said that its electronic system was purposely designed to avoid tampering.

“The electoral process that will lead to the election of a new leader has a
number of levels of checks and balances and this is being done in close collaboration with representatives of the candidates and the candidates themselves,” the commission said. 

“While some issues were addressed during the process, the Electoral Commission can ensure that the process is a fair and diligent one.”

Questions sent to the PL were not replied to by the time of going to print.

However, a senior Labour source on Monday said the party had recently invested in a new membership software that controlled data entries.

“It wouldn’t allow anyone using the software to enter membership payments attributed to the year prior to the first year of membership,” he said.

Describing the system as “foolproof ”, the source said that no more than two people could operate the system under the supervision of the electoral commission.

This could only be done in one office at Labour HQ which is open to the candidate’s representatives and who have to log in to use it. 

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