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Deputy leadership vote could still go either way

With minutes ticking to tonight’s Nationalist Party deputy leadership election, party insiders said there was no clear front-runner and the vote could go either way.

A total of 888 PN councillors will today be voting to choose between Finance Minister Tonio Fenech and MEP Simon Busuttil to fill the post vacated by Tonio Borg.

“It’s too close to call and we expect a second round as councillors seem to be split mid-way,” a senior party official told The Times.

The two candidates have been involved in four weeks of intense campaigning, interrupted by Dr Busuttil’s successful lobbying for Dr Borg as EU Commis-sioner, and Mr Fenech’s presentation of the Budget.

“Councillors are sending mixed messages to both camps and we would not speculate on the result,” the official said.

Both candidates yesterday evening organised their separate end-of-campaign gatherings, appealing to councillors to give them their vote.

Although both events, held at Villa Arrigo and The Palms, were well attended, campaigning will continue until the eleventh hour with every vote potentially making the difference. A number of councillors are still believed to be undecided.

Both camps yesterday said they were confident of a win.

“Our numbers show we’re on the right track,” a member of Mr Fenech’s campaigning team said.

On the other hand, one of Dr Busuttil’s helpers admitted it was a difficult contest but said the MEP’s team was confident the councillors will make the right choice in the interest of the party.

According to the PN statute, the deputy leader should be elected by two thirds of the votes cast.

None of the candidates in similar elections in the past has ever managed to get the required majority in the first round and today’s election is not expected to be an exception.

Today’s voting will be held between 10am and 9pm, with the result expected an hour later. A second round has already been slotted for tomorrow.

Councillors who spoke to The Times were very cautious with their comments.

A veteran PN stalwart from Gozo who has been a councillor since the Borg Olivier days said tonight’s voters do not necessarily reflect the rest of the electorate.

“Councillors are political animals themselves and have a mind of their own. They don’t necessarily reflect the national mood nor what ministers tell them to do,” he said.

The two contenders for the post departed from different positions.

Initially it was thought that Dr Busuttil would be uncontested, strengthening the theory that he was the automatic party choice since his appointment as the Prime Minister’s special delegate last January. But Mr Fenech then emerged as a strong contender backed by most of the Cabinet.

Whoever wins tonight’s election will serve until the next general election, which will be probably held in March.

Simon Busuttil. at his end-of-campaign gathering. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Tonio Fenech met Nationalist councillors last night. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

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