21 MAY 2003

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MLP delegates talk of split if Cuschieri is deputy leader

The Labour Party’s post-election throes will possibly come to an end tomorrow with the election of two deputy leaders. But delegates speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times said if Manwel Cuschieri is elected deputy leader, the move could provoke a split within the party.
Delegates clamouring for change in the party did not manage to topple Alfred Sant, but last week’s leadership vote saw the leader’s internal support dip below the 70 per cent mark, as this newspaper had forecast.
For pro-change delegates Sant’s rating was considered to be a mini victory, especially when compared to the 98 per cent approval rating Sant got in 1998.
It is widely believed that the real battle for change will be held tomorrow when delegates have a freer hand in deciding on who should occupy the deputy leadership posts alongside Sant.
Cuschieri is a loyal foot soldier of Sant’s clan and his attitude is often blamed for keeping moderate floating voters away from the Labour Party. His election as deputy leader would most definitely send the wrong message to middle of the road voters and possibly force moderate Labourites to abandon the party.
Cuschieri currently occupies the post of president of the MLP and has strong support among Labour die-hards. However, his bid for deputy leader party affairs will face a stiff challenge from the party’s election manager Michael Falzon.
A moderate, Falzon is also loved by Labour’s hard core. He is credited for turning the MLP’s election mechanism into an efficient tool and is internally praised for his organisational skills. Falzon’s support stems from his contact with thousands of volunteers during the election campaign.
The race for deputy leader party affairs also sees the charismatic Evarist Bartolo contesting. A Sant loyalist, Bartolo is popular among Labour delegates. He was the only other candidate along with Alfred Sant and George Vella to be elected from two districts in the general election.
Having pulled out of the leadership contest once Sant decided to run, it remains unclear why Bartolo chose to contest the same post as Cuschieri’s, delegates said.
It is argued that Cuschieri might be the decoy to erode Falzon’s electoral base thus allowing Bartolo to eventually win the contest.
The other contestants for the post of deputy leader party affairs are Joe Debono Grech and Alfred Mifsud. Both contenders are unlikely to leave the same impression as Falzon, Cuschieri and Bartolo.
Another keen contest is expected for the post of deputy leader parliamentary affairs. Tying his re-election bid, albeit for a different post, to Alfred Sant’s election as leader, Joe Brincat is expected to ride on the same wave of sympathy that saw Sant home.
But Brincat is poised to face a stiff challenge from Charles Mangion and Leo Brincat. Mangion has strong roots among delegates and is known to work with everyone.
It is rumoured that Mangion and Michael Falzon have co-operated closely to ensure that they get elected. The duo, are championed by delegates clamouring for change.
On the other hand, Leo Brincat has been campaigning for quite some time and initially also tied his bid to Evarist Bartolo’s candidature.
The other contender for the post of deputy leader parliamentary affairs is Jose Herrera, who is unlikely to impress with his result.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
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