Lawrence Gonzi wins his vote of confidence
Vote ‘clear and unconditional’
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi won a vote of confidence in Parliament yesterday after all government MPs voted in favour.
Errant Nationalist MP Franco Debono, who said he had no regrets in voting to oust former Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici last week, voted with the government.
Speaking in the Palace yard after the three-hour-long parliamentary session, Dr Gonzi said the vote was “clear and unconditional”, as he had wanted it to be. “This is a closed chapter and it is time to move on.”
But Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the vote did not solve the political problems hounding Dr Gonzi’s administration. “The problems will return.”
Dr Debono was not present with the PN parliamentary group that stood behind Dr Gonzi as he addressed the media after the vote.
No explanation was given for Dr Debono’s absence and the Prime Minister did not take questions. He also ignored the media when exiting the Palace into St George’s Square where a small crowd of PN supporters chanted “Gonzi, Gonzi”.
Dr Debono had declared he would be voting with the government during the debate but he insisted on the implementation of political and democratic reforms such as a law regulating political party financing.
“I am ready to help the Prime Minister implement the reforms I have long been talking about. It is not about appeasing me,” Dr Debono said.
He even described last week’s vote as a historical event since it “re-established” Parliament as the highest institution in the country.
“This country is not run by blogs but by Parliament,” he charged, in veiled criticism of blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia.
But according to opposition leader Joseph Muscat, the vote did not bring about the clarity Dr Gonzi was hoping for.
“We are back to square one,” Dr Muscat repeated. He pointed out that Dr Debono’s vote was conditional on the implementation of reforms and this fell short of the benchmark set by the Prime Minister. Dr Muscat accused the Prime Minister of ignoring the problems created by his style of leadership.
“The problem is not Franco Debono,” he insisted, adding the Prime Minister was “hostage to the seat of power”.
The debate started shortly after 6 p.m. in front of a packed Strangers’ Gallery. Dr Mifsud Bonnici, who resigned last week after losing a vote of no confidence, only entered the main chamber at 8.30 p.m. He sat alone at the far end of the backbench reading a book while his nemesis Dr Debono stood just metres away chatting with parliamentary colleagues Stephen Spiteri and Robert Arrigo.
Beppe Fenech Adami than moved over and sat next to Dr Mifsud Bonnici, who was later joined by Gozitan MP Frederick Azzopardi.
Kicking off the debate, Dr Gonzi said he had to bow his head in front of Parliament’s decision last week to oust the former Home Affairs Minister.
He justified calling the vote of confidence because clarity was needed in the national interest.
“Families want a government that addresses their aspirations and their problems... these internal games between us benefit no one.”
Dr Gonzi said his government had to focus on its agenda to steer the country at a crucial time for the economy. He insisted job creation was the single most important matter. He highlighted a number of pending issues including the negotiations with unions to conclude a collective agreement for the civil service.
At no point did Dr Gonzi mention Dr Debono or the reforms the MP has been clamouring for over the past few months. The Prime Minister accused the Opposition of opportunism and making extraordinary financial promises that were impossible to keep.
“This vote is not just a formal request for confidence in the government but hidden in its language is a call of no confidence in the Opposition leader,” Dr Gonzi insisted.
Apart from the Prime Minister and Dr Debono, the government side had three other speakers: Francis Zammit Dimech, Environment Minister Mario de Marco and Foreign Minister Tonio Borg.
Dr Muscat was the only speaker from the opposition. He said that he expected the Prime Minister, who has taken the home affairs portfolio under his wing, to do things differently.
He expected Dr Gonzi to move forward on the creation of a police union and set a date by when the freedom of information act would be implemented.
The debate got lively towards the end as in his closing speech Dr Gonzi upped the ante by recalling the police violence of the 1980s and the poor human rights record of the Labour administration.
Opposition MPs objected but then gave Dr Gonzi a cynical applause when he said the vote was clear and unconditional.