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PM mum on MP’s warning

‘No stability under Gonzi’ - PL

A threat by Nationalist MP Franco Debono to withdraw parliamentary support, ­effectively robbing the ­government of its one-seat majority, was met with silence by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

The PN’s general secretary Paul Borg Olivier was more forthcoming, saying the MP’s behaviour was not acceptable.

On Wednesday night, Dr Debono shocked the country when he told timesof malta.com that unless Dr Gonzi split the home affairs and justice portfolios by the end of the year he would not vote with the government.

“The Prime Minister has nothing to add to what he stated on December 1,” Dr Gonzi’s spokesman said yesterday in response to a series of questions.

The statement referred to is a comment Dr Gonzi gave Net TV, the Nationalist Party’s television station, two days before the vote on the Justice Ministry’s Budget ­estimates was taken in ­Parliament earlier this month.

Dr Borg Olivier was more scathing in his replies, insisting that Dr Debono’s comments “must have sounded like music to Labour Party ears”.

“Unfortunately, given the serious European economic and financial crisis, the instability in world markets and the challenges facing the euro, such comments are not particularly helpful,” Dr Borg Olivier said, when asked whether the party would censure or discipline the MP for threatening the government’s stability.

The Department of Information yesterday released a transcript of Dr Gonzi’s comment on Net TV. It quotes Dr Gonzi saying he would “consider” splitting the portfolios, a suggestion made by Dr Debono to bring the country into line with widespread practice across Europe. However, talking to The Times yesterday , Dr Debono insisted the Prime Minister had “promised” him the split would happen by the end of this year.

When asked whether he had given Dr Debono such a timeframe, Dr Gonzi did not reply and also declined to say whether he would consider an early election.

The Prime Minister also refrained from saying how he felt about Dr Debono’s outburst and the threat to withdraw parliamentary support.

But Dr Borg Olivier answered with a plain “no” when asked whether he found the MP’s behaviour acceptable. He said Dr Debono was not correct to insist that the promise to split the portfolios be implemented by year’s end.

Sources said the general secretary spoke to Dr Debono yesterday morning. The MP was recovering at home after suffering an anxiety attack.

Numerous attempts to contact Home Affairs and Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici yesterday proved futile.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici was heavily criticised by Dr Debono for his handling of the two portfolios and is said to be irked by Dr Gonzi’s comment earlier this month that he was considering splitting his ministry.

On Tuesday Dr Mifsud Bonnici was a guest on TVM programme Bondiplus.

The latest round of unrest on the government bench is possibly the most serious to date as this is the first time an MP has openly threatened to withdraw his support in Parliament unless his demands are met.

A spokesman for Labour leader Joseph Muscat said the government had “a defective majority” and was “past its expiry date”.

“The country needs stability during these testing times and Lawrence Gonzi is clearly not able to provide it,” the spokesman said when asked whether an early election was the only way out of this impasse.

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