Fearne, Dalli and Scicluna eyeing Labour deputy leader post

Who will be the next deputy prime minister?

Ministers Edward Scicluna, Helena Dalli and Chris Fearne eyeing deputy leadership role
Ministers Edward Scicluna, Helena Dalli and Chris Fearne eyeing deputy leadership role

As all ministerial roles have now been filled and defined, the only remaining question mark is who will replace Louis Grech as deputy prime minister. 

The decision does not fall to Joseph Muscat, but instead it will be the 750 or so Labour delegates who will pick the new deputy leader for parliamentary affairs – who will automatically become government’s second in command.

Nominations for Labour’s vacancy will open later this week once casual elections are held and the parliamentary group is complete. 

At least three senior ministers are eyeing the post, namely health minister Chris Fearne, finance minister Edward Scicluna and European affairs minister Helena Dalli.

All three have confirmed their intention to contest the election which will be held in mid-July to fill in the vacancy created by Grech’s exit. 

It was in the middle of the electoral campaign that Grech announced he would not be contesting the general election.

“This is a very emotional moment for me,” Grech, standing by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, had told party supporters. 

Grech was elected deputy leader in 2012, with 724 votes in favour, out of a total of 749 votes cast. In comments to MaltaToday, a health ministry spokesperson said Fearne “is consulting with colleagues and party delegates and will make his intention known once nominations start being received.”

Fresh from his strong electoral showing, Fearne is expected to be the frontrunner if he takes the plunge. 

The popular physician received the second highest number of votes within Labour’s ranks (behind Muscat), garnering 10,098 votes in the two districts he contested. 

Fearne is hugely popular with the party’s grassroots and is likely to be backed by diehard and veteran delegates. 

The scholarly Scicluna, on the other hand, is well positioned to attract the support of the moderate current within the party.

Asked whether he will throw his name in the hat, the highly respected Scicluna told MaltaToday that he is ready to serve as Muscat’s right hand man and act as a bridge between the current and future leadership.

“If the delegates are indeed showing interest in seeing me as a deputy prime minister, acting as an honest broker between potential future contestants, then once again I am ready to serve today in that capacity,” he said.

“My main interest in going out for the political life was solely to strengthen the Labour movement. I always felt it needed to modernise and – at that time – be a suitable alternative party in government. Being merely an official party in opposition was not good enough. I must say today that what I wished for has been obtained. The party today is indeed a broad-based and inclusive movement.”

While adding that Labour’s next objective was its resilience and sustainability over time, Scicluna said “I believe my track record in the various professional roles I have filled in the past are there for everybody’s scrutiny and evaluation.”

In comments to MaltaToday, Dalli confirmed that she too would be contesting the election.  

Dalli, who is the longest serving MP out of the three probable contenders and the driving force behind Labour’s civil liberties revolution, will bank on the support of the younger and liberal delegates who however are only a minority.

Louis Grech’s successor will be elected on 13 and 14 July, during an extraordinary general conference in which the party will also vote on all the elected positions in the administration. 

A secret vote of confidence in Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat – and in the deputy leader for party affairs Chris Cardona – will also be held during the conference, as laid down in the party’s statute. 

If more than two candidates submit their nomination for deputy leader, and none obtains at least 50%+1 of all valid votes, a second election will be held on Saturday 15 July between the two candidates who obtained the highest number of votes.

Nominations for the vacant deputy leadership and other administrative positions – president, vice-president, administrative secretary and international secretary – will be accepted until 6pm on 22 June. 

Next Labour leader

While all eyes are on who will be the next PN leader, Labour is also set for a change at the very top during this legislature.

The contenders for Labour’s deputy leader post do not necessarily have ambitions to replace Muscat, once he steps down as leader. Days after winning his second term, Muscat said he will not contest another general election.

MaltaToday understands that a number of Labour stalwarts are mulling leadership bids. These include economy minister Chris Cardona and justice minister Owen Bonnici who came second behind Cardona in the 2016 election for deputy leader for party affairs. 

MaltaToday is also informed that a number of outsiders are also biding their time, including MEP Miriam Dalli and newly elected MP Robert Abela. 

Dalli a former Labour media star remains very popular with the party faithful. 

Abela, son of former Labour leadership challenger and President of the Republic George Abela, is the most recent addition to Labour’s stable of young and ambitious politicians and he might be the surprise package in the leadership contest. 

Other young and budding MPs who might be interested in the post include Aaron Farrugia and Ian Borg.

Muscat will be a tough act to follow and his decision to call it a day after two terms in office could open a Pandora’s box for his party. 

While Muscat has made his intentions clear it is yet to be determined whether he will step down mid-term or else lead Labour to a third election in the same fashion of Eddie Fenech Adami who resigned a year after securing the EU membership referendum in 2003 and paved the way for a leadership contest which saw Lawrence Gonzi defeating contenders Louis Galea and John Dalli.  

He could also follow in the steps of ideological mentor Tony Blair, who after winning the 2005 election, vacated the premiership two years later to honour his pact with Gordon Brown to succeed him.