Bitter Facebook spat between Abela’s and Fearne’s chief canvassers

Robert Abela’s sister-in-law, Bormla mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli, and Chris Fearne’s communications assistant, Paula Cauchi, in bitter Facebook exchange

Deputy prime minister Chris Fearne and Labour MP Robert Abela
Deputy prime minister Chris Fearne and Labour MP Robert Abela

The gloves are off in the Labour leadership race with key people in the respective camps now engaging in bitter open warfare on social media.

The most recent exchange was sparked by Bormla mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli, who accused “an ex Nationalist presenter on PBS” of pulling out outdated interviews from a TV programme he had while “playing hide and seek”.

Zerafa Civelli is Robert Abela’s sister-in-law.

Her cryptic post was interpreted as a reference to former TVM presenter Lou Bondì, who has been rumoured to be supporting Chris Fearne’s bid.

Fearne’s leadership campaign has denied having anything to do with Bondì.

Immediately, Zerafa Civelli’s post was countered by former One News journalist and lawyer, Paula Cauchi, who is part of Fearne’s campaign team.

In strongly-worded post Cauchi accused Zerafa Civelli of “spreading lies”.

“These rumours are a complete lie. That normal people ask about them, I can understand, but I did not expect that someone from your candidate’s core team, like you, puts up a status that perpetuates this lie. I expected much better from you,” Cauchi rebutted.

The spat continued with Zerafa Civelli hitting back: “Paula Cauchi this is my page and I can write what I want. I have a mind of my own and experience. What you had to do is stop your people from distributing misleading photos and videos and not stop me instead.”

It did not end there. Cauchi insisted she did not give instructions to people and “trolls” to repeat the same sentence “like your team does”.

In a modicum of closure, Zerafa Civelli said that likewise she did not instruct anybody, concluding her remark by asking Cauchi not to use her page to continue fearmongering.

The exchange continued with other PL activists and members contributing to the bitter exchange.

It remains unclear what photos and videos, Zerafa Civelli was referring to.

Party members vote to elect their leader on Saturday. The campaign took a bitter twist in public over last weekend when Abela formally complained with the party’s electoral commission, alleging tempering with voter list by Fearne’s aides.

The commission investigated the claim and denied the rumours, adding the system had different levels of security that made it impossible for any person to temper with it.

Abela has experienced a surge in support among party members over the past week, which was strengthened by his performance on TVM’s Xarabank last Friday.

A MaltaToday survey among members conducted last week before the Xarabank debate put Fearne in the lead with 55.4% against Abela’s 44.6%. The result is a far cry from internal polls that were leaked to other media in the previous weeks, which put Fearne’s support at over 60%.

However, the survey result was conditioned by the large percentage of respondents who did not declare their preferred choice for prime minister. Almost six in 10 of respondents (58.9%) said they did not know who to support.

Labour sources have told MaltaToday that Abela’s grassroots campaign has continued to gain traction. However, Abela shot himself in the foot yesterday when he told MaltaToday that his legal firm, Abela Advocates, should not be denied the opportunity to bid for government work if he is elected prime minister.

“Robert came across as someone who is unable to let go of the lucrative government contracts his firm has been awarded, raising the spectre that no lessons have been learnt from recent events,” a party member with knowledge of the respective campaigns said.

Fearne’s campaign, on the other hand, has been hampered by “several gaffes”, including the prospective leader’s statement that he already had a party event booked for after the election. “Fearne has appeared to be wanting the leadership at all costs and his certainty has left a sour taste among some members who are still in love with Joseph Muscat,” an inside source told this newspaper.