Updated 11.45am - Added PD comment

Partit Demokratiku was forced to scramble and apologise on Wednesday morning after a member of the party's social media team compared Labour MP Julia Farrugia Portelli to a "village escort". 

Malta's third political party drew the unsavoury parallel on Facebook when sharing a video posted by its MP Godfrey Farrugia, with PD adding the comment "when village escorts become MP's [sic] you know the country is in the pits". 

The comment, which has since been deleted, quickly prompted outrage from politicians on either side of the aisle, with PD leader Anthony Buttigieg subsequently stepping in and apologising to Ms Farrugia Portelli personally (see below).  

Dr Buttigieg told Times of Malta the comment was posted by "an individual in the party" who had since been admonished. He did not say who the individual was, but made it clear it was not one of the party's two MPs.  

The party later said it had asked its secretary general - MP Godfrey Farrugia - to lead an inquiry into the incident and to revert with recommendations within 10 days. 

PD's comment came in reaction to a video from a plenary session in parliament last Monday in which Speaker Anġlu Farrugia ordered PD MP Godfrey Farrugia out of the House, for having repeatedly - and loudly - interrupted Ms Farrugia Portelli, who serves as parliamentary secretary for citizenship, as she argued in favour of introducing embryo freezing. 

Criticism from either side

Criticism of the comment came fast and thick, and from either side of the political spectrum. 

In a statement, the Labour Party said the party had succumbed to "sexist and elitist politics" and attributed the Facebook comment to PD MPs Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia. 

"The least they could do is say sorry. Though what they did shows their true political colours," the party said. 

Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola was also quick to slam PD.

"I agree with Julia Farrugia on precious little," she wrote on Twitter, "but calling her a whore is simply not on. It's sexist. It's wrong. It's shameful that we still have to point that out." 

PN councillor Michael Briguglio also alluded to the comment, writing that it was "unacceptable to resort to personal attacks, sexist insults and other trollish discourse against political adversaries."

The Nationalist Party also issued a statement condemning the comments on Wednesday evening.

The mayor of Ms Farrugia Portelli's hometown Qrendi, David Schembri, felt the comment denigrated the village.  

"Please go steady in ones remarks about a Maltese village, as the Qrendi locality and its people take offense quite easily being extremely proud and passionate on "Who and What" they are," he wrote in a comment posted on Times of Malta's comment section.

The protagonist herself, meanwhile, sought to rise above the melee and instead focused on PD MPs' "social stigma" about people raised in Maltese villages. 


 PD leader apologises

PD leader Anthony Buttigieg told Times of Malta that he had written a personal apology to Ms Farrugia Portelli after having seen the comment on Wednesday morning. 

"Even if people do not agree on principles or ideals, there must always be reciprocal respect," Dr Buttigieg wrote. "PD will be issuing an official apology, and I will be taking steps to ensure that no such comment is ever issued in the party's name ever again." 

The person responsible for uploading the comment, he told Times of Malta, had been admonished, and the party would be discussing new social media guidelines during its next executive meeting. 

This is not the first time parliament's third party has made headlines for its choice of vocabulary. 

Earlier this year, PD MP Marlene Farrugia came in for criticism from Labour MPs after she mocked parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri as a "ġbejna" [cheeselet] - a description the Gozitan MP insisted was a slur on Malta's sister island. 

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