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Labour leader: No place for prima donnas

Labour leader Joseph Muscat yesterday called on everybody to roll up their sleeves and get ready to work hard - there would be no place for "prima donnas" in the party he said in the wake of the election of the party's administration.

"The holidays are over. Whoever assumes that the 'earthquake' within the party will not happen is mistaken.

Where we failed in the past we will renew, and where we succeeded we'll build on," he said.

Addressing the second session of the extraordinary general conference at the party headquarters in Ħamrun last night, Dr Muscat started his speech by hailing the party's founding father Dom Mintoff who turns 92 today.

He then prayed for a miracle for Karl Chircop, Labour's spoke-sman for health affairs, who is in a deep coma. The party's thoughts were with him and his family.

Deputy leader Anġlu Farrugia shed a tear while recounting the last time Dr Chircop spoke to him. Dr Chircop had told him to be less aggressive in order to attract more people to the party.

"He is a symbol of the unity our party needs," Dr Farrugia said.

Dr Chircop's condition overshadowed the party's conference and every speaker started his speech by expressing solidarity with their colleague. Dr Muscat said: "Karl always spoke of the need to listen to one another and to use everyone's talents, because there could be those who fall by the wayside through their shyness.

"We cannot remain closed within our shell. Let us listen to society and be prepared to change, while bringing about change to meet the country's aspirations," he added.

Dr Muscat also welcomed the "constructive" debate in the media in the past days, referring to former Finance Minister Leo Brincat's urging to oust Jason Micallef, who has just been re-elected to his post of general secretary.

"I'm glad to see this genuine spirit of confrontation and ideas within our party. I'm confident together we'll achieve what we didn't in the past. Let's move ahead in the spirit of unity," he said.

Dr Muscat also insisted that the party was pro-Europe, and there would be no personal nuances on this. The conference met to approve changes to the 10th chapter of the party's statute, which refers to the European Parliament elections.

It was decided that the number of candidates to be presented will be extended to 10 from eight. Of these, two must be women and one needs to have been a resident of Gozo in the past 10 years.

"We want to give everyone a chance to offer their services," Dr Farrugia said, explaining the reasons behind this inclusive amendment.

Before, a candidate needed 70 per cent plus one of the secret votes cast by the party's executive to be allowed to contest on the party's ticket. This has now been reduced to 50 per cent plus one, to allow more candidates to participate.

Another change included in the statute, is that if an MEP goes against party lines, he will be fined €15,000, while the same will happen if MEPs do not submit a report every three months to the national executive.

A clarification was also made that every time a word is referred to in the masculine form within the party statute, it will also be referring to the feminine. Notably, a number of those who spoke during the motion took the opportunity to attack the Nationalist Party. Charlon Gouder said that the PN "hates" Labourites and that the Labour Party should present a united front to make life difficult for the Nationalists.

Maria Camilleri said the enemy is not within the party, saying that there is an "external monster" to overcome.

The MEP elections to be held next June were said to be the first political test of the new administration. During the conference, party members voted for the new members of the executive. Voting closed at 8.30 p.m.

These are the members of the Labour Party's administrative team elected on Monday:

• Jason Micallef was re-elected general secretary with 370 of the 837 valid votes. The other contenders were Alfred Grixti (229 votes), Joe Vella Bonnici (224) and Keith Grech 14.

• Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi also retained his position as party president, netting 593 of the 828 votes cast, with his challenger Wenzu Mintoff getting 235.

• Louis Gatt was re-elected vice-president with 459 of the 841 valid votes.

• Joseph Cordina is the new finance secretary with 457 of the 836 valid votes.

• Ray Azzopardi was uncontested as public relations officer.

• Alex Sceberras Trigona replaces Joe Mifsud as international secretary with 436 of the 839 votes cast.

• Aaron Farrugia was elected education secretary with 637 of 834 valid votes.

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