Updated 8.30pm with PN's statement

The Nationalist Party's executive committee president resigned on Saturday and urged the administration to do likewise following a stormy meeting which saw Jean-Pierre Debono narrowly co-opted to parliament.

The developments came on Saturday after two electoral batterings which has left the PN in tatters.

Mark Anthony Sammut informed his colleagues he was stepping down because he wanted to assume responsibility for the heavy PN defeat at the European and council elections and wanted to express "disgust" at the party’s reaction to the result.

"I took the decision after the worst electoral loss in the PN’s history... The rest of the administration should step down," he told reporters after the meeting.

Whatever mandate given by its members in a democratic manner was irrelevant at this stage, Mr Sammut said, saying that the administration should assume its responsibility for the disastrous result.

Everyone's scared of speaking. Anybody who speaks up is branded a traitor

"We can only unite once the party walks out of this alley. Everyone's scared of speaking up. Anybody who does so is branded a traitor... History will judge us."

Asked whether Dr Delia should also step down, he simply said: “I think my statement was clear enough”.

Mr Sammut who had taken on the role in November 2017 said he had been given a unanimous vote of confidence by the party executive but felt it was his duty to assume political responsibility, despite not being involved in the elections' campaign strategy. 

In a post on Facebook, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi noted that while someone who was not involved in the drawing up of the political strategy was shouldering responsibility and resigning, those who drew it up and implemented it could not care less.

Asked about this post later, Dr Delia said he will be ignoring Dr Azzopardi.

“Dr Azzopardi has done it more than once and what he is doing is not beneficial to the party. I have no more time to waste with what he chooses to say on social media. Dr Azzopardi should shoulder his political responsibility,” Dr Delia said.

Asked whether he would be asking Dr Azzopardi to resign, Dr Delia said he would not.

“You do not ask someone to resign for a comment unless that comment goes over a certain limit,” he said.

Debono replaces Stellini

The PN's executive committee decided to vote for Jean Pierre Debono, who had ceded his seat to pave the way for Adrian Delia to be co-opted to parliament in 2017.

Forty-two votes went to Mr Debono, just two more than Gozitan lawyer Kevin Cutajar, a result which party insiders said had now unofficially split the party right down the middle.

Jean Pierre Debono: back in parliament.Jean Pierre Debono: back in parliament.

The co-option comes following the resignation of MP David Stellini.

Various PN MPs had expressed their support for Dr Cutajar's bid, while certain party officials and the party administration appeared to be supporting Mr Debono.

In a statement in the evening, the Nationalist Party said the decision was taken following a secret vote which was taken after both candidates were given the opportunity to make their case.

The main argument in favour of Dr Cutajar's cooption was that Mr Stellini had been one of four Gozitan MPs so the chair should go to a Gozitan. That in favour of Mr Debono was that the two MPs elected on the seventh district in the 2017 election had been given up, one to the Democratic Party the other to the Nationalist Party, so this district deserved a representative.

Nationalist MP Chris Said took to Facebook to express the Gozitans' "disgust" at the decision. He said he was considering what action to take.

Walking out of the PN headquarters, Dr Cutajar said he had no comment to make. 

PN deputy leader Robert Arrigo gave no comment as he walked into the meeting.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Walking out of the PN headquarters soon after getting co-opted to Parliament, Mr Debono said he disagreed with Mr Sammut’s decision.

"With people leaving, the party is not being strengthened but it is shrinking. What we need is a strong internal, in-depth discussion to analyse this big electoral defeat for the party."

Concrete, rather than hasty, decisions that would strengthen the party would then be taken.

Asked whether he believed Dr Delia should stay on following the result, he said "it is not a matter of who stays or who goes. My interest is to see the party strengthen. What needs to be done should be done as long as the party is strengthened," he said.

The Nationalist Party's executive committee convened on Saturday morning for the first time since a landslide defeat at the European and local council elections.

The Labour Party won a majority of 42,000 votes in the European elections increasing it to 47,000 votes in the council elections. 

The party leadership appeared to downplay the extent of the defeat and Adrian Delia has insisted he would run his term until the next general election. 

Asked whether he would heed former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi’s advice to put his leadership to the test, Dr Delia replied with a curt: “No.”

Later, the PN leader said he had been entrusted with a task and when the party members who gave him that trust believed they no longer had confidence in him, he would leave.

"The party has its structures and members can take action when they deem fit," he said.

Dr Delia was also asked to comment about the way forward. This, he said, was to continue taking decisions in the interest of the country.

“The people are saying the Nationalist Party has to change, some want it to change one way, others want it to change another way. We will go through the necessary processes to ensure theis is done,” he said.

Speaking prior to going into the PN executive meeting, he said that an analysis of the final results was yet to be made, he added.

"This was a democratic party and those within the party had structures where they could address their issues, he said.

Nationalist veteran Francis Zammit Dimech has in the meantime offered to intervene to help unite the party during a meeting with leader Adrian Delia.

Approached as he was exiting the PN headquarters, former leader Simon Busuttil refused to comment.

The Nationalist Party has suffered two humiliating defeats.The Nationalist Party has suffered two humiliating defeats.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us