MaltaToday, 21 May 2008 | Bartolo attends Abela meeting, but he is still contesting


NEWS | Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Bartolo attends Abela meeting, but he is still contesting

Matthew Vella

Evarist Bartolo has confirmed he is still in the Labour leadership race after his presence at a meeting organised by leadership contender George Abela last Saturday sparked rumours that he was edging closer to the Abela camp.
In a statement on Tuesday, Bartolo denied rumours that he was not really interested in becoming leader but wanted to be deputy leader.
With a MaltaToday survey of Labour delegates last Sunday placing Bartolo with a support of just 1.9% of delegates who had made their mind up, yesterday the Labour MP issued a statement stating he was “not interested” in the post of deputy leader for parliamentary affairs – while adding the leak of delegates to MaltaToday had “poisoned” the leadership election by trying to condition the delegates. In comments to MaltaToday yesterday, Bartolo justified his presence at Abela’s meeting on Saturday as “an act of civility” after he was invited to attend.
“I was invited to attend the reception, and later I also attended a reception by Labour MP Silvio Parnis, who also invited me. In short, I attended as a gesture of courtesy for being invited. It’s the least I could do.”
Asked why he did not attend the meeting organised by contender Joseph Muscat, whose meeting on that same Saturday evening was held with delegates from Bartolo’s own electoral constituency, Bartolo simply said that he had not been invited.
“It’s straightforward: I attend if I am invited. And I was not invited to Joseph Muscat’s meeting. In fact, on Friday I will be organising an event to which I have also invited the other leadership contenders. That is in line with my message for unity,” Bartolo said.
He also denied that his presence at Saturday’s meeting was in any way an endorsement of or alignment with Abela.
A senior Labour official said Bartolo’s low ranking among Labour delegates might have been the first indication that the MP will be carefully choosing an allegiance with a contender with a better chance for the leadership.
MaltaToday’s survey ranked George Abela second at 10% of delegates’ support, while Joseph Muscat emerged as the frontrunner with 31.5% – a situation that can yet change as allegiances shift in the run-up to the 5 June election.
While Abela’s unexpected success has pipped Labour deputy leader Michael Falzon, who comes in at third place with 7.7% of support, Muscat’s lead must still contend with the reality of 28.8% of delegates who are still undecided, according to the MaltaToday survey.
Muscat has also been officially endorsed by veteran MP and former deputy leader George Vella – an endorsement which comes at the cost of Evarist Bartolo’s bid, a senior Labour official said. Vella was unceremoniously dumped in the 2003 electoral fallout by leader Alfred Sant when his foreign affairs portfolio was removed, and instead awarded to Evarist Bartolo, who became EU affairs spokesperson.

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