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Gonzi urges PL to back the Budget

Muscat says that Labour is ‘serene’

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday urged the Opposition to support the Government in tonight’s crucial Budget vote but Labour leader Joseph Muscat said his party was “serene” about voting against.

Addressing separate activities on the eve of a vote widely expected to trigger the dissolution of Parliament, the leaders rallied their troops while taking digs at each other.

“If necessary, you should vote in favour of the Budget and we’ll hold a vote of confidence afterwards... But don’t vote against families,” Dr Gonzi told the Opposition, as this would deprive families and businesses of beneficial measures.

“The Prime Minister has no one to blame but himself for the current situation,” said Dr Muscat, stressing Dr Gonzi had himself linked the vote to confidence in Government.

With the rest of Parliament evenly split, the final say on which way the vote will go rests with Franco Debono, a Nationalist MP who earlier this year broke ranks to launch a crusade against the Prime Minister and most of the Cabinet. He has since vowed to vote against the Budget if Transport Minister Austin Gatt remains in Cabinet.

Dr Muscat yesterday accused the Prime Minister of putting Dr Gatt’s interests before those of the country by leaving him in Cabinet.

But Dr Gonzi attacked Dr Muscat for using this situation to vote against a Budget “so good even he wants to implement it”.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonzi said any Budget measures that could be introduced irrespective of the vote would be implemented immediately, including the cost-of-living-allowance. The other Budget measures would remain PN proposals.

The Prime Minister also promised an election early next year irrespective of the vote’s outcome but did not confirm March 9 as the date. The Sunday Times and other papers have cited it as the most probable.

Dr Gonzi, who will tonight give a speech in response to Dr Muscat’s Budget reply, said he would take a stand immediately after the vote and provide a step-by-step account of what would follow.

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