How should the party deal with Dr Debono?
Nationalist MPs are still digesting Wednesday’s bitter episode where their colleague Franco Debono voted with Labour to oust a respected minister from a much-loved PN dynasty.
But while some are still talking about building bridges, others want a severance of relations. Internally, there are even rumblings moving to dismiss the MP altogether, regardless of the political cost.
Environment and Tourism Minister Mario de Marco, who has enjoyed good relations with Dr Debono over the years, criticised the Nationalist MP but left the door open to reconciliation.
“I’m deeply angered and hurt by what happened on Wednesday,” he said, confessing a filial interest in the debate on justice and home affairs since he remembered the pre-1987 police corps his late father Guido had inherited as the first Nationalist minister with these portfolios.
“To see the Labour Party, that is still composed of the old members of the Malta Labour Party which was responsible for the darkest pages in the history of the police corps, successfully pass a motion of censure against Carm Mifsud Bonnici, aided and abettedby Franco Debono, was to me a sad day for Malteseparliamentary democracy.”
Dr de Marco said the Nationalist MP had a lot to answer for and must assume responsibility for his actions, since voting on such a motion was an insult to the memory of those who suffered at the hands of the police while Labour was in government.
“I think it’s going to take much more than a favourable vote in the motion of confidence for him to redeem himself. I am confident he can do it but he must prove himself.”
Dr de Marco recalled a quote by former PN leader George Borg Olivier who once said that to be a true Nationalist one must love the party more than they love themselves.
“I think Franco (Debono) still has to prove that he is a true Nationalist,” Dr de Marco added.
Dr de Marco, touted as a future PN leadership contender, said the government must continue fulfilling its mandate to govern for five years, holding the fort while “Europe is burning”.
Instability, he said, was caused by baseless motions about police cars failing their VRT tests. As long as the government continues to pass important legislation, it must remain in power.
However, Dr de Marco also had a message for those who are dealing with Dr Debono.
“We must keep in line with the politics of persuasion and not the politics of appeasement,” he said, incorporating his father’s mantra which was also the title of the former President’s autobiography.
MP Charlò Bonnici, however, is one of those in favour of severing relations. He said: “Franco Debono crossed a red line he should never have crossed. We cannot be held hostage by one person. We cannot keep negotiating with him.”
His words echo those of his colleague Beppe Fenech Adami who has already publicly declared Dr Debono to have “burnt all bridges” with the party.
Mr Bonnici was struck by the solidarity shown towards Dr Mifsud Bonnici who was forced to submit his letter of resignation last week.
“It was a silver lining in a very dark cloud,” Mr Bonnici said, describing how Dr Debono’s vote united the parliamentary group.
Mr Bonnici said the opposition motion was unjustified, but what Dr Debono said after the vote showed he had ulterior motives.
“This is completely unacceptable,” Mr Bonnici said, adding that Dr Debono’s “ambitions and expectations” were clear even before the vote.
“I don’t believe any door should be kept open for such negotiations,” he added.
Meanwhile, backbencher Robert Arrigo insisted that “every scenario offers opportunity” and appealed for the PN to continue building bridges rather than burning them.
Describing Dr Debono as “the same old slow puncture”, Mr Arrigo said he would remain optimistic and confident that the party could overcome this hurdle.
“I am always for a solution. My life is all about building bridges and I believe there’s always a solution to everything, except death.”
However, Mr Arrigo refrained from proposing solutions himself.
“I can’t offer a solution because I’m not involved. Had I been involved maybe I could offer a solution,” he said, echoing various speeches in the past where he criticised the government’s exclusion of backbenchers.
“I have always preferred a part of inclusion,” he said. So should the Prime Minister take Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s stepping down as an opportunity to include some of the backbenchers like himself?
“Every scenario gives you opportunities. It’s about how you make the most of the opportunities that come along in life...”
How the saga unfolded
November 4, 2011
Franco Debono abstains in a motion censuring Transport Minister Austin Gatt for the botched public transport reform, allowing the Speaker’s casting vote to save him.
The backbencher supports the government in a vote of confidence, after Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi sets up a taskforce to improve the bus system.
Dr Debono warns the Prime Minister he will withdraw parliamentary support unless Carm Mifsud Bonnici’s Justice and Home Affairs Ministry is split by year’s end.
January 6, 2012
Dr Gonzi announces a Cabinet reshuffle and splits the justice and home affairs portfolios, but Dr Debono immediately calls for the Prime Minister’s resignation and insists he will bring down the government if a vote of no confidence is held.
Amid pressure from the PN parliamentary group, which calls for his resignation, Dr Debono abstains in a no confidence motion tabled by the opposition – preventing an early election.
Dr Gonzi launches a PN leadership race but does not step down.
With no one else in the running, Dr Gonzi wins an overwhelming 96.5 per cent approval rating, though two MPs announce they did not vote.
After a long Easter recess, Dr Debono says he wants Parliament to discuss an opposition motion about justice and home affairs before the Budget Measures Implementation Bill. Dr Gonzi refuses.
Labour leader Joseph Muscat threatens to force a vote on the previously submitted opposition motions to censure Dr Mifsud Bonnici and Malta’s EU ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana – another government member at the receiving end of Dr Debono’s criticism.
After much bickering from both sides, a deal is brokered to debate the Budget Bill first, as clear timeframes are given for the other two motions.
Dr Debono supports the government on the money Bill (which is equivalent to a vote of confidence) and the City Gate project financing vote.
Last-minute negotiations with Dr Debono fail. The backbencher votes with the opposition to amend the motion of censure to one of resignation to oust Dr Mifsud Bonnici, who immediately resigns.
Dr Gonzi calls a vote of confidence in the government for tomorrow and Dr Debono announces he will not vote against. Nor, he says, would he support the opposition’s censure motion on Mr Cachia Caruana scheduled for June 18.
It emerges that the backbencher was “close” to negotiating a “whole package” of changes.