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Election for March 9 as Debono defeats Budget

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi held his head high as he left Parliament last night, soon after his MP Franco Debono brought the Government down. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi held his head high as he left Parliament last night, soon after his MP Franco Debono brought the Government down. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Malta will go to the polls on March 9, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced last night after backbencher Franco Debono helped bring down the Government by voting against the Budget.

Franco Debono is irrelevant
- Lawrence Gonzi

Dr Gonzi said he would be meeting the President this morning to ask him to officially dissolve Parliament on January 7, a move to ensure voting documents will not be distributed during the Christmas season.

“We knew what would happen. There were no surprises tonight. We were ready for this,” Dr Gonzi told a news conference shortly after the vote.

The fateful vote came after Dr Gonzi gave a two-hour speech in Parliament where he outlined the Government’s economic successes and warned that Labour’s populism would bring the country to a halt.

“It would be much better for the country to head to the polls with a Budget approved. I hope common sense and the national interest prevails,” Dr Gonzi said before the vote.

But Dr Debono reacted fiercely, especially to Dr Gonzi’s claim that he was right to prioritise the country’s needs over his party’s internal instability.

“I hereby lay down the first stone of modern democracy, where no one is above the law. It is a privilege and honour to stop the oligarchy and vote against this Budget,” Dr Debono said in an aggressive speech where he repeatedly ignored the Speaker’s calls to conclude.

Dr Debono said he was voting against the Budget for a number of reasons, namely Transport Minister Austin Gatt’s refusal to resign. He also criticised the national broadcaster, The Times, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech and several others who he said formed part of a “web of evil”.

Dr Gonzi refrained from criticising Dr Debono during his speech and again during the press conference.

“Franco Debono is a closed chapter. He is irrelevant,” said Dr Gonzi, a comment that went viral on social media.

Asked whether he planned to take a break, Dr Gonzi promptly replied: “My best is yet to come. Let’s go for it.”

In a separate press conference, Opposition leader Joseph Muscat said the Government had imploded and collapsed, just as he had predicted would happen months ago.

He chastised Dr Gonzi for clinging to power and presenting a Budget when had long known this would happen.

“He has divided his party and destroyed the Government,” Dr Muscat said, accusing the Prime Minister of choosing Dr Gatt over the country’s stability.

St George’s Square was cordoned off and no incidents were reported outside Parliament as a few score of supporters cheered their political leaders.

When news of the vote emerged, a number of Labour carcades were heard around the island, while shortly afterwards the PN announced a rally for tomorrow.

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