Labour delegates voting on motion to extend voting rights
Labour party delegates have started voting on a motion to amend the party statute to enable paid up members to vote in the election to elect a successor to Alfred Sant.
The motion was presented by new Labour MP Marlene Pullicino at the opening of an extraordinary general conference, the first since the MLP suffered a narrow defeat at the March 8 general election.
To date only the delegates to the general conference, numbering almost 1,000, have a right to vote in the leadership election.
The idea to extend the right to vote was first mentioned by George Abela, one of the five contenders in the leadership contest.
Dr Pullicino said at the opening of an hour-long debate before the vote was taken that a vote in favour of the motion would make the MLP more democratic and more inclusive. It would also mean it would have a leader with stronger authority.
The debate was divided into half an hour for speakers who were in favour and half for those against.
Among those who spoke against were Mayors Michael Cohen (Kalkara) and Paul Farrugia (Tarxien). Mr Cohen expressed his regret that two months after the election, the MLP was still discussing how to elect its leader, when it should be holding the government to account. He argued that it would be logistically impossible to hold an election among 19,000 members in 27 days. Furthermore, while he had every respect for the members, one had to acknowledge the role which the delegates played within the party.
Mr Farrugia was given a standing ovation when he introduced his address by thanking Alfred Sant for his service. He argued that it should be the delegates who should vote for the leader because they were, after all, the delegates of the members to the general conference, in the same way as the people elected their representatives to Parliament.
MPs took decisions in Parliament on behalf of the people, and the delegates would take decisions at the general conference on behalf of the party membership, he said.
One of the delegates who spoke in favour of the motion said he could not understand why it should be so difficult to hold an election among all the members in 27 days when the party had said it had been ready for a general election.
Winding up Dr Pullicino urged the delegates not to fear change, which, she said, would benefit the party.
The speeches was characterized by murmuring by many delegates as those in favour of the motion made their comments, giving observers the impression that the motion will be defeated.
All the leadership contenders were present for the debate.
Voting will take place over three hours and vote counting is expected to start at around 11.30 p.m.
Picture: The MLP conference in progress. Leadership contenders are in the front row.