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PM respects Engerer’s decision to resign but not reasons given

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi addressing journalists outside Parliament after he voted against on the second reading of the divorce Bill last Wednesday. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi addressing journalists outside Parliament after he voted against on the second reading of the divorce Bill last Wednesday. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said he respected the decision of Sliema deputy mayor Cyrus Engerer to resign from the Nationalist Party and join Labour but disagreed with his reasons.

Mr Engerer did not resign because of the PN’s stand on divorce but pinned his decision on one issue: Dr Gonzi’s No vote against divorce legislation in Parliament on Wednesday.

Dr Gonzi said he believed it did not make sense for a member of a political party to leave because he disagreed with one issue and move to another party where he disagreed with a number of things.

“I fear we are reaching a situation where people are no longer anchored to their principles,” he said, adding he respected Mr Engerer’s decision and wished him well.

Mr Engerer resigned from the PN on Friday after calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation in the wake of his No vote deeming such a stand to be against the will of the majority as expressed in the divorce referendum.

Mr Engerer, a gay-rights’ activist with liberal ideologies, said he felt the PN was becoming more and more conservative and he related more with the ideologies of the PL. He is now considering contesting the election on a Labour ticket.

Labour leader Joseph Muscat, speaking in an interview on One Radio yesterday, welcomed Mr Engerer aboard and insisted the Prime Minister should have voted Yes to respect the people’s wishes.

Dr Gonzi stressed he had voted No to remain faithful to the oath he took when he became Prime Minister. In an interview on Radio 101, he explained he had solemnly sworn to take his decisions “faithfully and conscientiously without fear or favour”.

His views on divorce were known to all – he believed it was detrimental to families and society – so he could not go against his conscience just because some wanted him to. He was shocked to see that some people were asking him to break the oath and he had no intention of doing so.

Dr Gonzi added that, as Prime Minister, it was his duty to ensure that the will of the majority, as reflected in the referendum, was respected. His No vote did not have a bearing on the final result. Had this been the case, he would have voted differently.

The second reading of the divorce Bill was approved in Parliament on Wednesday with 44 votes in favour, a dozen abstentions and 13 votes against.

Dr Gonzi insisted he had given Nationalist MPs, including Cabinet members, a free vote to decide according to their own conscience. In fact, 12 voted for, 12 opted to vote against and 11 abstained.

Labour MPs, on the other hand, did not have a real free vote because Dr Muscat warned Adrian Vassallo – the only Labour MP to vote against the Bill – that he would suffer the consequences, Dr Gonzi said.

He added that as the divorce debate continued in Parliament he hoped the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills would improve the proposed law.

He was worried that, as things stood, certain guarantees promised in the referendum question were not reflected in the law. This included maintenance and the protection of children.

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