Bernard Grech is holding meetings with the three candidates in the running for the seat vacated by the death of Robert Arrigo, amid speculation that the party could co-opt its deputy leader Alex Perici Calascione instead.

St Julian’s mayor Albert Buttigieg met with Grech on Thursday, lawyer Emma Portelli Bonnici held a meeting with him yesterday and former Nationalist MP Karl Gouder will likely meet with him in the coming days.

Contacted for comment, Buttigieg would not disclose what Grech had told him but said it was a “cordial meeting during which both sides respectfully expressed their views. No decision has been taken yet and we are now reflecting on the best way forward”.

I feel that any comment at this stage would in itself not show the respect which is due to Robert Arrigo and his family- PN deputy leader Alex Perici Calascione

All three candidates failed to get elected on Arrigo’s 10th district in the last election but would be in with a chance of taking his seat through a casual election.

All three told Times of Malta they had not decided whether to throw their name in the hat yet.

They said these were sad days for the party and they felt it was too soon to be thinking about the election at a time when they were still mourning their friend and colleague.

Arrigo, a beloved politician, entrepreneur and former PN deputy leader, died on Tuesday after he was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of summer.

The funeral is being held this morning.

'Party considering all options'

MaltaToday reported yesterday that the Nationalist Party was considering co-opting Perici Calascione to Arrigo’s seat in case none of the three eligible candidates contested the casual election.

Contacted for comment, a  party spokesperson would not confirm whether the report was true. He said the candidates were free to contest but,  in case none of them did, “the party will consider all options”.

When contacted, Perici Calascione said the issue was being raised too soon after Arrigo’s death.

“I am aware of what has been reported in sections of the media and I am aware the law provides for relevant procedures in such cases but I feel that any comment at this stage would in itself not show the respect which is due to Robert Arrigo and his family and to Marina and her children,” he told Times of Malta.

Both Buttigieg and Portelli Bonnici clashed with the PN after the March election.

In May, Buttigieg claimed that, before the election, a party official had promised a construction “fat cat” they would shut him up.

Then, in June, Portelli Bonnici hit out at her party accusing it of ignoring her and other candidates who had failed to be elected.

Contacted yesterday, Portelli Bonnici told Times of Malta she was going to the meeting with Grech with an open mind to discuss all the possibilities.

She added that she had run the idea of contesting by her family and friends, some of whom encouraged her to do it while others thought it was a bad idea.

It is unclear whether the PN prefers Perici Calascione over the three eligible candidates.

'A unifying figure'

Sources close to the party told Times of Malta that Grech was not blocking any of the three from coming forward to take Arrigo’s seat but if none of them were to contest, Perici Calascione would be seen as a unifying figure among party factions.

The sources said he would be the most moderate figure and would prevent further divisions, considering that Buttigieg is seen as too conservative by some factions and Portelli Bonnici is conversely seen as too liberal by others.

It would also mean a deputy leader replacing a former deputy leader in parliament, in what would be a more natural, unifying move, they said.

Buttigieg was the last candidate to be eliminated from the race for a 10th district seat in the last election, though this is no guarantee that he will win a casual election.

Arrigo had inherited 91 votes from Gouder upon his elimination and Gouder would, thus, have a head start.

It all depends on the second preference of the voters who gave their number one vote to Arrigo. But Buttigieg has the advantage of being higher up on the ballot paper in alphabetical order; some voters tend to mark their preferences in descending order.

This is the second time in five years that a parliament seat has been vacated due to a death.

In 2017, a casual election was held to fill the seat vacated by Gozitan MP Frederick Azzopardi, who passed away at 71.

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