The new dynamics in Gonzi’s House
The outcome of last night’s meeting between Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and government MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando must not have surprised many people, certainly not those who follow the political scene.
Given the manner in which Dr Pullicino Orlando decided to go against his Parliamentary Group’s Whip and vote with the opposition on a motion that led to the resignation of Malta’s EU envoy Richard Cachia Caruana, it was obvious that he was on a collision course with the Nationalist Party that Dr Gonzi leads. This especially in view of the influence that Mr Cachia Caruana has on the party and its higher echelons.
As if playing a leading role in forcing Mr Cachia Caruana to step down were not enough, the rebel backbencher dared to go to the party’s executive committee accusing Mr Cachia Caruana of having colluded with the 1996-98 Labour government and demanding that he should be kicked out of the PN. The MP lost that battle but he was evidently dead set on hitting back.
This he did by asking to meet his party leader, informing him that he was resigning from the party with immediate effect. He did not, however, step down as an MP and neither did he opt to sit in the middle as a completely independent member of the House.
Dr Pullicino Orlando said that he would be informing the Speaker of the House of his resignation from the PN and would ask for a meeting with him “in order to plan a way forward, given the circumstances”.
He also made it clear that, “out of respect” for those who had voted for him in the last election, he would “continue to collaborate in the implementation of the measures outlined in the PN electoral programme for 2008”.
The bottom line is that the PN has lost a member in the House but, going by Dr Pullicino Orlando’s commitment towards his constituents, nobody can claim that the Nationalist government does not enjoy a majority, at least not constitutionally. Morally and politically it might not, but the country’s highest law still justifies the PN remaining in power, unless there is a clear vote of no confidence.
The same can be said of Dr Gonzi’s tenure as Prime Minister. The Constitution says that the President shall appoint as Prime Minister that member of the House who, in his judgement, “is best able to command the support of a majority of the members of that House”. It does not speak of a party leader but of a member of the House.
Dr Gonzi and his party were already treading on thin ice as backbencher Franco Debono openly demonstrated his dissent, culminating in his vote with the opposition that ousted former Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici. Then came Dr Pullicino Orlando’s stand against Mr Cachia Caruana and Jesmond Mugliett’s abstention on the same motion.
Just imagine the precarious situation now, as a result of this “coalition” between the PN government and Dr Pullicino Orlando. He will most certainly want to exert influence on certain issues and has already declared he expects to be consulted by the Prime Minister “should any measure which is not specifically mentioned in the (PN) electoral programme require my support in Parliament”.
Parliament meets again on October 1 but the situation is so flimsy that things may have to happen even before
Dr Gonzi is faced with a formidable task. The advice remains the same: go for an election soonest.