Salvu Mallia withdrew from a public showdown with the Equality Minister’s husband Patrick Dalli yesterday after being “persuaded” to tone down his approach, this newspaper has learnt.

The latest controversy surrounding the presenter-turned-candidate erupted following remarks which he made about Minister Helena Dalli, whom he called “a bitch”. Mr Mallia was reacting to a story published by The Malta Independent which said that her youngest son was put on the State payroll as a member of the Economy Ministry’s secretariat.

Aggrieved by the remark, the minister’s husband on Friday challenged the PN candidate to a face-to-face meeting, at Café Cordina in Valletta on Saturday morning at 10am. Mr Mallia not only obliged but notified his followers about the encounter through Facebook.

News of what promised to be a highly-charged face-off – but a potentially embarrassing event for the PN given Mallia’s reputation as a loose cannon – was soon being reported by several news portals.

The first signs that something was brewing at the PN headquarters came two hours later when Mr Mallia posted an update saying he could only make it at noon as he had just been invited to a PN news conference.

Speculation was further fuelled yesterday morning when the PN candidate, stopping just short of making an apology, said he would never again use such a term against the Equality Minister. Subsequently, the encounter was cancelled, with a PN spokesman saying that Mr Dalli was indisposed.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has come to the defence of Mr Mallia on more than one occasion, saying he had made politics “interesting”.

However, party sources who spoke to The Sunday Times of Malta confirmed that away from the public eye, the scenario was quite different. “The invitation to the news conference was part of a deal to persuade him to stay away from the showdown with Mr Dalli,” they said.

“In recent days it was made amply clear to him that he must toe the party line and tone down his approach. To his credit, Mr Mallia was forthcoming and is doing his best to restrain himself,” they added.

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