Who will replace John Dalli?
The appointment of John Dalli as EU Commissioner will trigger a casual election in the sixth district. There are three potential candidates who can fill the vacant seat: Louis Galea, Peter Micallef and Robert Musumeci.
The method of filling casual vacancies in Malta is through a casual election by a method known as a count-back system. The procedure is very simple: Mr Dalli's packet of votes will be opened and each ballot paper will be examined and allocated to the next available preference. Mr Dalli's packet of votes is made up of one large parcel of 3,371 first-preference votes and six small sub-parcels corresponding to different counts in which he inherited votes. In fact, Mr Dalli inherited 33 votes from the Labour Party and small parties, 188 votes from Ninu Zammit and 165 votes from Mr Musumeci.
There are a number of factors that will be influencing the outcome of the upcoming casual election and each of the three candidates has advantages and disadvantages over the others. Let us evaluate each candidate's chances.
Dr Galea looks like the front-runner in this race. In the original ballot paper, he was second on the list behind Mr Dalli. It has been scientifically proven that ballot paper position affects the outcome of elections and Dr Galea will have an advantage over the others when Mr Dalli's first preference votes are distributed among the candidates. Dr Galea has also been a prominent Cabinet member and, therefore, second-preference votes from Mr Dalli could not only be attributed to ballot paper position but also to his popularity.
One disadvantage that Dr Galea has is the role that localism plays in Maltese politics. Just as there are a number of voters who allocate their preferences in the order by which candidates appear on the ballot paper there are also voters who assign their top preferences on the basis of the locality. Dr Galea's electoral base in the sixth district is Siġġiewi while Mr Dalli's base is Qormi. A number of Qormi voters - the quantity is unknown - must have allocated the second and third preferences to Clyde Puli who hails from Qormi and to Dr Micallef, a well known doctor who practises his profession in the same town.
Therefore, Dr Micallef's hopes rest on the Qormi voters. He won 1,152 first-preference votes in the general election and by the time he was eliminated on the 10th count, Mr Dalli had already been elected. So, like Dr Galea, Dr Micallef has no votes to be returned to him when Mr Dalli's parcel is opened.
On the other hand, Mr Musumeci, who was eliminated in an earlier count, would be receiving 165 votes which Mr Dalli inherited from him. These were first-preference votes awarded to Mr Musumeci and which ended up in Mr Dalli's final tally.
Mr Musumeci will, therefore, be having a head start of 165 votes over Dr Galea and Dr Micallef in the first stages of the casual election. This initial slight advantage will probably be neutralised by two important factors already mentioned: Mr Musumeci's ballot paper position and his electoral base. Like Dr Galea, Mr Musumeci's electoral base is Siġġiewi and, therefore, will be suffering from the effect of localism. Being last on the ballot sheet will not enhance his chances either. On analysing the various factors surrounding this particular casual election, it is probable that the matter will not be decided on the first count. The electoral law stipulates that the winner must receive 50 per cent plus one of the preferences to be declared elected. It is very unlikely that any of the three candidates will have a clear advantage over the others. If I had to make a prediction, I think Dr Galea has the biggest chance of winning the seat but Dr Micallef is also very popular in Qormi and could well give Dr Galea a bigger challenge than some might think. On the other hand, I do not think Mr Musumeci's initial 165 votes advantage would be enough to keep him long in the race.
There is, however, one question yet to be answered: How many of the three candidates will submit their nomination when the Electoral Commission issues the notice for the casual election?