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Parties will launch their campaigns on January 7

PM had chosen to prolong instability – Muscat

The two main parties are expected to officially launch their electoral campaigns on January 7 in the lead-up to a widely touted March 9 general election, The Sunday Times has learnt.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has said he will call on the President to dissolve Parliament if his Government loses the crucial Budget vote tomorrow, and that will most likely take place this week.

Nationalist backbencher Franco Debono has repeatedly said he will vote against the Budget unless Transport Minister Austin Gatt resigns from Cabinet.

However, sources close to the Nationalist Party said party officials have held talks with Dr Debono during the past days to try to convince him about the importance of voting with his party.

“We still expect him to vote against the Budget, but as far as the party is concerned, the door for Franco Debono remains open. The country needs this important Budget to go through,” one senior party source said.

“The country needs to start implementing it rather than leaving it hanging in the air. It will ultimately make little difference to the election date.”

Party officials dismissed suggestions that the Prime Minister would make an attempt to prolong the uncertainty and in his speech tomorrow he is expected to confirm the Budget vote will be tied to a vote of confidence.

“The Prime Minister will make a political commitment that he would go to the President if the Budget vote isn’t carried through.”

The President’s engagements for this week show a scheduled a meeting between George Abela and Lawrence Gonzi on Tuesday at 10am.

The make-or-break vote is taking place at the start of the festive season though the two main parties have agreed to postpone all electioneering until after the new year so as not to disrupt business during the Christmas season.

Sources from both parties yesterday said their electoral campaign would officially kick off on January 6, though Labour’s could start a day later. Should the Budget fail to make it through Parliament tomorrow, the Prime Minister is expected to name a March 9 election, making it the longest electoral campaign since 1987. The Constitution states that an election must be held within three months of Parliament’s dissolution. Local elections have also been slated for March 9.

The standard Monday Cabinet meeting is not being held this week. Ministers are expecting an urgent Cabinet meeting on Tuesday before Dr Gonzi goes to the President, should the Government lose the vote.

Contacted yesterday, Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the Prime Minister had chosen to prolong the instability even though he was well aware there was a good chance the Budget might not be sanctioned in Parliament. Confirming his party would vote against the Budget tomorrow, since it was effectively a vote of confidence, Dr Muscat insisted that a new Labour government would still carry through the 2013 Budget to ensure stability.

The Chamber of Commerce has warned of the economic repercussions should the Budget be voted down. It insisted that tax and duty collection, for instance, may be thrown into disarray to the detriment of public coffers, fiscal morality and the reputation of the country as a stable business destination.

Government sources said that during his speech tomorrow, Dr Gonzi is expected to highlight his administration’s handling of the economy during the past five years in the midst of financial collapse around Europe, forcing a number of EU states to ask for a bailout.

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