Debono rejected by Gonzi - Debono 'surprised'
Nationalist Party refutes claim of Gonzi’s backing, but Debono stands his ground
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has denied wanting rebel MP Franco Debono as a PN candidate for the next election, although Dr Debono has stood by his comments and expressed surprise.
Speaking during TVM programme Dissett on Saturday evening, Dr Debono claimed the Prime Minister told him he was in favour of his candidature, but if he submitted his nomination it would have to be approved by the PN executive.
However, asked by The Times yesterday to confirm or deny Dr Debono’s statement, a spokesman for the PN gave an uncharacteristically unequivocal rebuttal.
“The Prime Minister denies making any such statement.
“On the contrary, the Prime Minister makes reference to the PN executive decision, which was clear and unanimous: those who were responsible for Monday’s vote and the resignation of Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici must shoulder their responsibility,” the spokesman said.
“There is absolutely nothing that can justify an MP of a party voting for the other party without there being consequences,” he added, implying that not being able to contest the next election was such a consequence.
Dr Debono was last week condemned by the PN executive for voting in favour of an opposition motion calling for the resignation of Dr Mifsud Bonnici.
Nationalist MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett were also condemned, in the same statement, for failing to support the government in a parliamentary vote yesterday week on a Labour motion, which forced the resignation of EU Ambassador Richard Cachia Caruana.
Dr Debono insisted he had done nothing wrong and accused the PN executive of acting “in breach of the basic democratic principles and the rules of natural justice”. He insists that the decision was taken behind his back when he was in Parliament doing his duty and proposing measures for justice and home affairs.
The Prime Minister’s latest declaration, together with the PN executive’s condemnation, signal a departure from the government’s attitude in previous weeks and months regarding Dr Debono.
Only two weeks ago, Dr Gonzi hailed the “contributions” made by Dr Debono as he justified the fact that he was still paid as the Prime Minister’s parliamentary assistant despite his damaging behaviour in the House of Representatives.
“Dr Debono contributed in certain aspects. He also did some things which I absolutely disagree with but in life you have to look forward,” Dr Gonzi had said.
The government has sped up work on two of Dr Debono’s initiatives: his draft Bill on party financing (which has seen a consultation period launched) and his motion on justice and home affairs, currently being debated in Parliament.
But the stand on his candidature is likely to rile Dr Debono and risks causing more problems for the government during an already difficult period.
FRANCO DEBONO STANDS BY HIS COMMENTS
Meanwhile, Franco Debono said he stood by his comments and said he was surprised by the PN's claims.
He said that when he asked the prime minister what his position would be if he were to stand for re-election, Dr Gonzi replied that he was in favour of his candidature and he should go on home visits.
“The only condition he made was that I should attack Labour.” He also told him that the ultimate decision on whether he could contest the election on the PN ticket rested with the party Executive.
Dr Debono said that when he told Dr Gonzi that last Saturday he criticised the Labour motion against Mr Cachia Caruana, Dr Gonzi replied that that was not enough and he should attack Labour every day.
Dr Debono said he could not understand what was happening as he had had a positive meeting with the prime minister. It was possible, he said that the problem lay in Dr Gonzi's advisers, who were taking him from one problem to another as they sought to protect their own positions.
Regarding the condemnation by the Executive over the way he voted in parliament on the motion against Carm Mifsud Bonnici, Dr Debono said that even a band club or a sports organisation had to observe the rules of natural justice, let alone a political party. He, therefore, should have been heard before the decision was taken.