Most trusted and mistrusted rebels

Results from a survey on the levels of trust enjoyed by PN backbenchers Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett are published in MaltaToday’s Sunday edition.

4 December 2011, 12:00am
Franco Debono
Franco Debono
They are considered to be rebel backbenchers, but surprisingly Franco Debono, who has repeatedly embarrassed the PN only this week, led the Prime Minister to announce that he would separate the justice from interior, is more trusted of all the three backbenchers. But Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, the pioneer behind the divorce bill, ends up as the least trusted. This could be a result of the flak he received from all sides (especially from the Labour party) on the Mistra saga before 2008.

This survey was carried out just before Pullicino Orlando's surprise announcement that he would not be contesting the next election. Debono, a criminal lawyer from the south, has taken advantage of the fact that the PN has a only a one-seat majority, and indirectly threatened to use his crucial one vote. 

Yet he has been crucial in raising valid questions about institutional reform and more importantly, about the failings in justice and the courts. But surprisingly, Debono has never allied himself with Pullicino Orlando and Mugliett.
Trusted PN PL
Franco Debono 42.3 30.9
Jesmond Mugliett 42.3 14
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando 30.8 14

Not trusted PN PL
Franco Debono 29.8 39.7
Jesmond Mugliett 20.2 53.7
Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando 43.3 50

Following his abstention, which forced the government to rely on the speakers' casting vote on an opposition motion censuring Transport Minister Austin Gatt, Nationalist backbencher Franco Debono was still trusted by a relative majority of Nationalist voters.

Debono's abstention forced the Prime Minister to call a confidence vote: a move which was unprecedented in post-Independence Maltese history (note: although both Alfred Sant and George Borg Olivier had similarly called for the confidence of parliament, they did so by tying an existing bill before the house to a vote of confidence in their governments).

The survey was held before Debono announced that he would oppose reforms presented by Home Affairs and Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici.

But while 42.3% of Nationalist voters still trust Debono, a substantial 30% have lost trust in the maverick MP. 

But despite his antics, Debono remains more trusted by Nationalist voters than Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, who is distrusted by 43% and trusted by just 31% of Nationalist voters. 

On the other hand, Debono is as trusted among Nationalist voters as the less controversial Jesmond Mugliett, who had only distanced himself from the government in a free vote on the divorce referendum question. 

The survey was conducted between Wednesday 16 and Wednesday 23 November, before Pullicino Orlando announced that he will not be contesting the forthcoming election with the Nationalist Party, and before Debono announced that if a reform package on justice is not amended, he would vote against it.

The MaltaToday survey was limited to the three backbenchers who had broken ranks with government in different parliamentary votes.  

Mugliett and Pullicino Orlando had voted with the opposition on a crucial vote on the wording of the divorce referendum question last March. The vote resulted in Gonzi's only parliamentary defeat so far. But on this occasion, Nationalist MPs were given a free vote, and therefore Mugliett and Pullicino Orlando were still loyal to their party.

Debono forced the government to rely on the speaker's casting vote twice: first by leaving early before a vote was taken in December 2009, and then by keeping to his word to abstain on an opposition motion censoring Austin Gatt. On this occasion, the party had called on its MPs to vote against the opposition's motion.

Debono's relative popularity could in fact reflect the unpopularity of Gatt, whose performance as Minister was deemed positive by just 24% of Nationalist voters in a MaltaToday survey conducted in October. Challenging Mifsud Bonnici, whose performance was approved by 66% of Nationalist voters, could have very different consequences on Debono.

The survey shows that before his decision to retire from politics, Pullicino Orlando was the only one of the three rebel backbenchers to be distrusted by a relative majority of PN voters.

Debono and Pullicino Orlando are both more distrusted by Nationalist voters than Mugliett.

Moreover, the survey shows that among all respondents, Debono enjoys the highest level of trust among the three MPs. 

In fact, a third of all respondents expressed their trust in Debono, compared to less than 25%  in the case of Mugliett and Pullicino Orlando.

Of the three backbench rebels, Debono is also the most trusted among Labour voters.  Among Labour voters, Debono is trusted by 31% but is distrusted by 39%. This could reflect the fact that Debono kept to his word.

Debono is also relatively popular among uncommitted voters (i.e., voters who are either undecided or would not vote in a forthcoming election). Among this category, Debono is trusted by 34% and only distrusted by 19%. 

On his part, Pullicino Orlando registers high levels of distrust among all categories of voters; being distrusted by 43% of Nationalist voters, 50% of Labour voters and 41% of uncommitted voters.

This could reflect the fact that the MP received flak from all sides, from Labour on the Mistra case, from the Church and conservatives in his own party on the divorce issue and from loyalists who all along questioned his loyalty to the party.

But Mugliett is even more distrusted than Pullicino Orlando among Labour voters, 53% of whom do not trust him. This could reflect the constant attacks of the opposition in the previous legislature regarding his roads ministry portfolio and the Manwel Dimech bridge saga.

But Mugliett is less of a polarising figure among non-committed voters and Nationalist voters. In fact, 24% of Nationalist voters and 43% of uncommitted voters replied "don't know" when asked whether they trust Mugliett. This could also reflect Mugliett's less prominent role in the political scene.



A total of 652 respondents were contacted by telephone between Wednesday 16 and Tuesday 22 November. 450 accepted to be interviewed. The results were weighed to reflect the age and population balance of population. The survey has a margin of error of /- 4.6%.