Debono will not cast vote against the government
Debono’s vote ousts Mifsud Bonnici
Nationalist MP Franco Debono forced Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici to resign last night but said he would not vote against the government in a vote of confidence which Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi immediately scheduled for Monday.
Dr Debono said he would also refrain from voting against the government in an opposition motion calling for the resignation of Malta’s permanent EU representative Richard Cachia Caruana next month.
“My criticism of Mr Cachia Caruana is different from that of the opposition,” Dr Debono told timesofmalta.com just after Dr Gonzi called a vote of confidence in the government in reaction to Dr Debono’s vote and Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s immediate resignation.
The opposition’s motion, filed in December, called for Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s resignation over his handling of the justice and home affairs portfolio. (The justice portfolio was removed from Dr Mifsud Bonnici in January’s Cabinet reshuffle.)
Dr Debono also voted with the Opposition to change the motion from one of censure to one calling for Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s resignation. Dr Gonzi told the press he had accepted Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s resignation in light of the vote but insisted that the former minister had served with dedication and loyalty to the country.
“He spent four-and-a-half years working intensively for the country and I take back nothing of what I said,” Dr Gonzi said, referring to his closing speech in Parliament where he defended Dr Mifsud Bonnici.
Dr Gonzi assumed Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s responsibilities regarding home affairs and local government but reappointed deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg as Leader of the House – a role given to Dr Mifsud Bonnici in the Cabinet reshuffle.
Earlier yesterday, there were reports Dr Debono might abstain, prompting speculation that he would go back on months of intensified criticism against Dr Mifsud Bonnici. This is what Dr Debono had done last November in a similar vote on Transport Minister Austin Gatt, where the renegade MP had abstained.
Immediately after last night’s vote, Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the Prime Minister should “take the decent way out” and assume his responsibilities according to the serious political repercussions of the vote, which could not be seen in isolation.
“The longer it takes for the Prime Minister to take the decisions which are inevitable, every day is a wasted day for Maltese families and workers,” Dr Muscat said, adding that the government had lost two votes in one night. He pointed out that the government was last January saved by the Speaker when Dr Debono abstained from a vote of confidence in the government.
Dr Muscat did not say whether an election should be called but pointed out that various Nationalist MPs had spent the debate “systematically” linking the opposition motion to confidence in the government.
He added that when last January the government survived a vote of confidence on the strength of the Speaker’s casting vote, Dr Gonzi called a one-man leadership race.
“Now the situation is more serious than that. I had said the GonziPN system would implode and it has now imploded.”
Just after Dr Muscat spoke, Dr Gonzi addressed a press conference surrounded by most of his MPs and staff where he acknowledged the vote, announced Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s resignation and called a vote of confidence in the government on Monday.
Dr Gonzi pointed out that the government won a vote of confidence only three weeks ago when Dr Debono voted in favour of the Budget Measures Implementation Bill.
“But although I could have said that vote remains valid, in the circumstances I felt I should still go back to Parliament to register whether there is a majority in favour of the government.”
Asked if Dr Debono had a future in the PN, Dr Gonzi refused to elaborate, saying only: “Everyone must shoulder the responsibility of their actions”.
Asked what he would do if Monday’s vote was won by the Speaker’s casting vote, Dr Gonzi said: “The motion either passes or it does not”.
Dr Gonzi also said he was not surprised by Dr Debono’s vote.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici, who was accompanied by his supportive wife in Parliament, did not give extensive comments during the press conference but when asked whether he felt the vote was fair he said: “That is for the people to judge.”
In his letter of resignation which was published last night, Dr Mifsud Bonnici thanked the Prime Minister for his support and insisted he served “loyally” and with great responsibility.
“Unfortunately, some MPs did not fully understand the commitment this ministry demanded,” he added.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici was cheered by bystanders as he left Parliament last night.