Last updated at 9pm. Miriam Dalli reporting from PN headquarters.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi announced a series decisions taken today by the PN executive committee, which groups its parliamentary group, which included a ban on three MPs from contesting the next elections on the party ticket.
The Nationalist Party's executive committee resolved not to allow MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Franco Debono and Jesmond Mugliett contest the next general elections, in a motion approved unanimously by the party's executive and MPs.
"The administration presented this motion against the three MPs, which was approved unanimously, not to allow them to contest the next general elections for the way they voted on several Opposition motions," Gonzi said.
Both Pullicino Orlando and Mugliett had previously announced they would not run for re-election again.
Gonzi also presented 10 new candidates, which include surgeon Albert Fenech, former MITA chairman Claudio Grech, Austin Gatt's head of secretariat Manwel Delia, Gudja councillor Mark Anthony Sammut, MZPN international secretary Ryan Callus, human rights lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, and former Union Haddiema Maghqudin secretary-general Gejtu Vella.
"It is normal for a party to prepare itself with a list of candidates as part of a process for preparation for any forthcoming elections," Gonzi said. "This is part of the democratic process of any party to indicate any potential candidate for a forthcoming election."
Gonzi denied this was an expulsion of the three MPs by any other name. "No. It's a decision not to have them run on our ticket in the next elections. They are still members of the party... whether they support the government as MPs it is up to them now. When the parliament reconvenes in the first week of October, we hope we can move the laws that we recently approved, as well as move the IVF, cohabitation and EU stability mechanism laws. It will be an agenda of great national importance, especially in terms of the challenges Malta faces within the European context."
The Prime Minister said the PN was a democratic that always allowed space for different opinions to be made, but he stressed the importance of MPs to toe the line on parliamentary votes as ordered by the government whip.
Reactions: Debono, JPO
In comments to MaltaToday, Nationalist MP Franco Debono - who kickstarted the turbulence inside Lawrence Gonzi's government when he did not support transport minister Austin Gatt in late 2011 and voted for the resignation of home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici in an Opposition motion - described the decision as "an example of GonziPN justice... this is cruelty, absolute cruelty."
Debono said he was not surprised at the decision. "I knew it was coming with the reforms I had started inside the government, and it started when I flagged the failure of the Arriva transport reform. Now I get to be banned from contesting the election while Austin Gatt is still a Cabinet minister."
Debono said he would not comment on how he would vote on forthcoming parliamentary votes when parliament reconvenes after the summer recess in October. "It is not an expulsion because we are still members of the party. I'm not disappointed since I knew I was sacrificing my political career when I criticised the reforms on transport and justice. I don't regret anything."
Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando said he expected the escalation from the PN executive: "They have put the cart before the horse. They very well knew I was not contesting. But I will be presenting and preparing detailed evidence at next Tuesday's meeting and I have no doubt that the PN executive will have no alternative but to expel Richard Cachia Caruana."
Eddie Fenech Adami attends PN executive
Pullicino Orlando emerged from the meeting of the PN executive tonight at 7:30pm, after an hour from the meeting's start, expecting that the party might "escalate" a move to censure the three MPs who voted against government lines on two resignation motions.
"There was a suggestion that, one way or another, we would be censured," Pullicino Orlando said, referring to himself, Jesmond Mugliett and Franco Debono.
"After making my submissions [on his call to expel Richard Cachia Caruana], having been given the faculty to talk freely and without interruption, the only point I made was that we should not escalate the situation before next Tuesday's hearing," he said, on the next meeting to discuss his charges of collusion against Cachia Caruana.
"My motion was not moved for frivolous reasons... I feel that we are putting the cart before the horse if we escalate the censure before Tuesday."
Asked whether he felt an escalation was impending, on the censure of the three MPs - who have already been condemned by the party executive - Pullicino Orlando replied: "That's what I feel."
Of note was the presence of former prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami at the executive committee meeting, a sign of support for his former right-hand man, Richard Cachia Caruana. He left the meeting at 8:17pm but released no comments to the press.
ANALYSIS | INSIDE THE PN
This is an eventful committee meeting for the PN and for Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, whose one-seat majority has been threatened since January and has had to summon all his strength to pacify unruly MPs like Franco Debono, or try to postpone debilitating motions like those that forced the resignation of allies Carm Mifsud Bonnici and Richard Cachia Caruana.
The PN executive will be expected to discuss the terms of the 'hearing' that is to take place for Pullicino Orlando to prove his accusations against Cachia Caruana, after calling in Labour MPs Karmenu Vella and Joe Mizzi, Commissioner of Police John Rizzo, EU Commissioner John Dalli, and Gonzi's head of communications Gordon Pisani as witnesses for his accusations.
While Vella, a former tourism minister, has provided a sworn affidavit claiming that in 1997 Cachia Caruana tried to disassociate himself from Air Malta's misadventure on the Azzurrair subsidiary and RJ-70 fleet acquisition, Gordon Pisani has issued a blanket denial of Pullicino Orlando's accusations of "collusion".
Cachia Caruana has yet to present the PN executive committee with a list of witnesses, if any, in his defence - which makes it unlikely that the executive's hearing of Pullicino Orlando's expulsion request will be dealt with tonight.
With parliament in summer recess, it remains to be seen whether a stand by any of the MPs to withdraw support from the party would lead to a long lull of political inactivity before October, when parliament reconvene for what is expected to be a tension-filled Budget.
The executive also unanimously agreed on the procedure for a hearing on Pullicino Orlando's case to have Richard Cachia Caruana expelled from the party, including the deadline for the submission of witnesses and to give time to the former permanent representative to make his defence, on Tuesday 17 July.
A decision will be taken on the same day.
Pullicino Orlando adamant on RCC expulsion
Earlier, the MP said he expected the PN executive to take a decision this evening on his accusations of collusion made against former permanent representative to the EU Richard Cachia Caruana. "I have no doubt that the party that I am proud to be part of, will take the adequate decision because there can be no other outcome than the one that I am expecting," Pullicino Orlando said.
The PN executive committee and MPs were convened to discuss what Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said were "important decisions" to take after the party issued a condemnation of MPs Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Jesmond Mugliett and Franco Debono. While Franco Debono wanted to contest the party condemnation for having voted with the Opposition in a motion that secured the resignation of home affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici, Pullicino Orlando and Mugliett had respectively voted in favour and abstained on the motion that forced the resignation of Permanent Representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.
The condemnation was quickly followed by speculation over whether the PN executive would expel the MPs, particularly as an open war of words ensued between the party and Pullicino Orlando.
The MP replied with charges of "collusion" against Richard Cachia Caruana, and asked the PN executive to expel him.
Miriam Dalli, reporting from the PN headquarters, says security has been heightened outside Pietà's Stamperija. "Ernest Tonna, Transport Malta's chief enforcement officer as well as one of transport minister Austin Gatt's acolytes, can be seen ushering MPs in at the door of the PN headquarters, opening and closing the main door, and keeping the passageway free while journalists try to get a comment from the Nationalist MPs."
"When Pullicino Orlando arrived, flanked by two bodyguards he has employed for his security, Tonna did not let them enter the headquarters."
On entering the PN headquarters, Franco Debono refused to comment on the evening's deliberations, but the former president of the PN's general council, Victor Scerri, quipped: "I'm eagerly awaiting what someone like Joe Mizzi (the Labour whip summoned as a witness by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando) has to say about who should be expelled from the party."