8 October 2003

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Three-horse race likely for MLP secretary general post

By Kurt Sansone
It was October 1989 when Wenzu Mintoff was elected chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika after being unceremoniously dumped by the Labour Party for criticising the violent and corrupt elements that militated within.
14 years later and almost to the day, Dr Mintoff is back in Labour’s fold and vying for the post of secretary general. The former MLP whip and parliamentarian threw in his nomination at the last minute on Monday evening, a move that caught other contenders by surprise.
Dr Mintoff is the dark horse in the race for the post of secretary general and little is known about the support he enjoys among party delegates.
Dr Mintoff’s past and political weight are expected to make him one of the main contenders, along with veteran labour candidate Alfred Grixti and former deputy secretary general Keith Grech.
With a month to go before the MLP’s general conference, the race for the party’s top administrative post will be an interesting one to watch as the prospective candidates warm up to party delegates.
Both Alfred Grixti and Keith Grech have been meeting delegates over the past few weeks, contrary to Dr Mintoff who maintained a low profile to the very last day.
The battle for the hearts and minds of party delegates will see reformers cross swords with others, who are entrenched in Alfred Sant’s camp.
Mr Grixti, a former administration official, has strong roots among delegates and the odds on him winning the race are high. But victory is not a foregone conclusion. Mr Grixti is a Sant loyalist and if delegates are in the mood of continuing the reform started when Michael Falzon and Charles Mangion were elected deputy leaders, he may find the going very tough.
On the other hand, Keith Grech has publicly declared his position in favour of further reform, clearly aligning himself to the Falzon-Mangion reformist movement. Mr Grech’s biggest drawback is his young age, which may distance party delegates.

It is in this context that Wenzu Mintoff emerges as an outsider. He could possibly be seen by delegates as the ideal candidate to make a clean break with the past and offer political substance to the post of secretary general. However, Dr Mintoff can also be questionable to the delegates given his late-eighties expulsion from Labour and then his late-nineties departure from Alternattiva.
The other contenders for the post of secretary general are former CNI campaigner Lorna Vassallo, TVM presenter Jason Micallef, Mosta candidate Joe Chetcuti and Marsaskala local councillor Chris Agius.
Despite her eurosceptic outlook and her short fling with the Campaign for National Independence, Lorna Vassallo does not seem to have any particular backing from Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici.
The other coveted post, that of president of the party, will be contested by the incumbent Manwel Cuschieri and lawyer Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.
It still remains to be seen whether Mr Cuschieri, representing the old guard, will have a better showing than the deputy leader race in which he garnered a meagre 66 votes.
The elections for all posts on the MLP’s administration are conducted on a first past the post system. The candidate, who polls the highest number of votes wins. There will be no run-off between the top two contenders as normally happens in the race for the party leadership.
The whole list of candidates is expected to be published today, after the MLP’s Electoral Commission would have vetted all the nominations received

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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