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News • January 18 2004

Minister of foreign affairs - odds in favour of the only likely candidate

Kurt Sansone

With his imminent appointment as Malta’s first EU commissioner, Foreign Minister Joe Borg will have to say goodbye to local politics and relinquish his parliamentary seat on the ninth district. While that move was roundly predicted it is what happens next that is of interest to observers of the Maltese political landscape.
Michael Frendo, a former minister, is increasingly being tipped as the most likely person to fill in the post of foreign minister. Dr Frendo was the PN’s choice to represent Malta at the Convention on the Future of Europe and heads the foreign affairs committee in parliament. He is also one of the few lawyers to be conversant in EU affairs.
However, Dr Frendo’s appointment may be conditioned by the influence Richard Cachia Caruana may have on the key decisions ahead.
Some newspapers have postulated that Finance and Economic Affairs Minister John Dalli may also be a likely candidate, but Dalli aides laughed off the suggestion, saying this was mere speculation and the minister was very focused on his ministry agenda for the next six months.

Since the 1998 election, in which Michael Frendo made it to parliament after a late casual election when Guido de Marco was appointed president, relations between Cachia Caruana and Michael Frendo have been, to put it mildly, frigid.
Cachia Caruana, the Prime minister’s personal assistant and a very influential person within some quarters PN, has never shown enthusiasm in giving Frendo a more leading role within the parliamentary group.
The appointment of Michael Frendo on the Convention of the Future of Europe was the last chance for the PN to rehabilitate Frendo.
Another pretender for the post is MP Jason Azzopardi, a Guido deMarco look alike and the PN’s international secretary. However, the lawyer young age and absence of experience at Cabinet level are definite drawbacks.
Whoever is chosen, the nomination of a foreign minister will most probably be made within the context of a wider cabinet reshuffle that could see a number of ministers changing portfolio.
Joe Borg’s departure will, however, not only provide a vacancy for the post of foreign minister but also a vacancy in parliament. His seat will have to be filled by a casual election, which will possibly see six Nationalist candidates vying for the vacated seat.
The most likely person to fill the vacation is Dr John Vella, a former MP who failed to get elected at the last elections. Analysing the electoral results shows that Dr Vella’s top vote before dropping from the race was 1,478. Although a candidate’s top vote is of no relevance in a casual election, where all contestants start with a clean sheet, it is a clear indication of how Borg’s votes could be inherited.
However, Dr Vella may be given a good run for his money by Gzira local councillor and auctioneer Albert Rizzo and local council association president Ian Micallef.
The other candidates, Franco Galea, Msida Mayor Carmelo Grima and Sliema lawyer Melvyn Mifsud are less likely to be elected.


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