Updated at 9.05pm with Mark Anthony Sammut comments

The Nationalist Party’s regional committee for Gozo has asked the party leadership to nullify the co-option vote held on Saturday to fill David Stellini’s vacated parliamentary seat.

In a letter to PN leader Adrian Delia, the Gozo committee said that Mr Stellini should not have been allowed to take part in the vote and threatened to take legal action against its own party if the vote was not declared null and void.

The letter, which was shared with the media on Sunday evening, threw the PN into further chaos and prompted a strong reaction from Mark Anthony Sammut, who quit as PN executive committee president in disgust on Saturday.

"It seems that not only did Gozo have a parliamentary seat stolen, but it was stolen through deception," he wrote on Facebook, pointing the finger at Jean Pierre Debono as the man responsible for having allowed ineligible voters to have their say in Saturday's vote.  

Saturday's vote

Mr Stellini had announced his decision to quit parliament last Tuesday, but had nevertheless taken part in the executive committee meeting and cast a vote to nominate his replacement, the committee said in its letter.

Given that Mr Stellini’s membership in the executive committee stemmed from his seat in parliament, he should never have been allowed to play a part in the process, the Gozo committee argued.

The PN’s executive committee on Saturday voted to have Jean Pierre Debono replaced Mr Stellini in parliament, in a hotly contested meeting which was decided by just two votes, 42 to 40.

Gozitan PN supporters have been angered by the decision, saying Mr Stellini, who was elected on the 13th district, should have been replaced by another Gozitan candidate, Kevin Cutajar.

Gozitan MP Chris Said was among those who went public with his anger following the vote, saying Gozitans were "right to be disgusted". 

Party leader Adrian Delia has argued that Mr Debono – who gave up a seat in parliament to allow Dr Delia, who did not contest the 2017 election, to become an MP – was more suited to be co-opted as the 7th district had no PN representative.

Constitutional breach

The Gozo committee also hinged its claim to nullify the vote to elect Mr Debono on legal provisions, arguing that Maltese law states that MPs being replaced should have their seats filled, where possible, with members with the “same interests and beliefs as the member whose seat has been vacated”.

“The committee feels that the executive committee’s decision completely ignores the legal obligations which emerge from the Constiution,” it wrote.

In their letter, the committee asked party leader Dr Delia and party general secretary Clyde Puli to ask the party’s administrative committee to declare the Saturday vote null, to investigate why the list of executive committee members had not been updated to exclude Mr Stellini, and to order the vote to be retaken.

If this did not happen by 6pm on Sunday, the Gozo regional committee said, it would reserve the right to take legal action as needed.

'My vote was to secure Gozo's representation' - Stellini

Shortly after news broke of the Gozo regional committee letter, Mr Stellini said that he was still president of the PN's administrative council, until it met and a replacement could be nominated.

"I have fulfilled my responsibilities by not commenting publicly about my intentions," he said, going on to say that he had flown in from Brussels "on purpose to ensure that Gozitans' vote is not lost". 

"I once again call for Maltese politics to clean itself of envy, so that the PN can come together and plan for Malta and Gozo's future". 

'Seat stolen from Gozitans' - Mark Anthony Sammut

Outgoing executive committee president Mark Anthony Sammut suggested two people, not one, should have been denied a say in Saturday's vote. 

Apart from Mr Stellini, he wrote, treasurer David Camilleri should also have been excluded. 

It was Jean Pierre Debono's responsibility as political coordinator, he added, to keep track of executive members' data and attendance records. 

"Only one person" could have added Mr Camilleri's name to the list of voters, Mr Sammut wrote. "And their conflict of interest is clear". 

What is the PN's Gozo regional committee?

The PN's statute grants Gozo special status in that it provides for the creation of a regional committee for the sister island, made up of a president, secretary and five members. 

Members are elected for two-year terms by a vote open to all Gozitan PN members. One of its members also sits on the PN's administrative council and executive committee. 

The current Gozo regional committee is led by former Qala mayor Paul Buttigieg.

The committee works to ensure the party's principal aims are achieved in Gozo, ensures the party has direct lines of communications with grassroots activists and local stakeholders and oversees the running of party clubs in their areas.

Further trouble

The regional committee's legal threat adds yet another layer of complexity to the internal strife within the PN. 

Party insiders said Saturday's executive committee meeting was heated and ill-tempered, and shortly after it ended, committee president Mark Anthony Sammut said he would be resigning. 

Read: Seven experts have their say on the PN and its troubles

Later that day, Dr Delia sought to downplay differences within the party but made it clear he would not be engaging with Jason Azzopardi, a leading MP who has openly criticised his own party's leadership on Facebook. 

On Sunday, Dr Delia appeared to pin the blame for many of the party's internal problems on what he called the party "establishment", saying they felt they had a "divine right to govern"

“I tried to extend the hand of friendship once, twice, three times, but we cannot move on like this,” he said.

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