Monday, 20 September 2010

Times: Sliema council crisis - Fight over post of deputy mayor

Internal feuds have persisted within the Sliema local council, with a majority of councillors signing a motion against appointing Cyrus Engerer as deputy mayor and proposing, instead, elderly Nationalist councillor Edward Cuschieri.

Mr Cuschieri signed the motion along with the three Labour councillors, deposed former mayor Nikki Dimech and councillor Sandra Camilleri, who both resigned from the PN in recent weeks.

Due to his high vote count, Mr Engerer, 29, was next in line to take the position of deputy mayor after it was made vacant by the appointment of former deputy Joanna Gonzi as mayor.

She replaced Mr Dimech after he lost a vote of no confidence backed by all six PN councillors, including Mr Cuschieri who was reported to have been uneasy about the motion, even though he denied such claims.

The motion represents a fresh blow to the PN's traditional majority on the Sliema council and means that Mr Engerer and the PN colleagues who support him will likely lose the vote that would take place.

Mr Cuschieri could not be contacted for comment yesterday but in a statement, the PN deplored the attitude of the Labour councillors and called on party leader Joseph Muscat to state the real reasons why the Labour councillors were opposing Mr Engerer's appointment.

The PN did not mention Mr Cuschieri's signature on the motion but insisted that the PN councillors will vote for Mr Engerer to take his position of deputy mayor as stipulated in the law.

The motion which is due to be presented says that Mr Engerer does not have enough "experience and maturity" for the role, while Mr Cuschieri has long been active in the council.

But sources said there may also be an ideological conflict behind the motion. Mr Engerer does not have the backing of more conservative members of the PN because of his open views on gay rights. Mr Cuschieri is a fervent Catholic who was a member of the Legion of Mary and Azzjoni Kattolika.

When contacted, Mr Engerer said he was surprised by the motion and believed he was being targeted for reasons "very different" to the ones being mentioned in the motion, without wanting to specify these ulterior motives.

He said he could not understand how he could be called immature and inexperienced when he was the only one in the council to have studied politics and was only two years younger than Mr Dimech, whom the same six people had accepted as mayor.

Mr Engerer also pointed out that in local councils, experience did not make a difference in who became mayor or deputy mayor since the roles were given according to the number of votes garnered.

He added that there were several mayors and deputy mayors who were younger and less experienced than himself and who were backed by, among others, the Labour Party, which still somehow "has issues with trusting youths in certain positions".

"I think they are doing this because they want a weak council," he said, pointing out that the various councillors who were against him had different motivations.

With only 222 first count votes, Mr Cuschieri was the least popular successful Nationalist candidate, while Mr Engerer earned 590 votes – putting him third in line after Mr Dimech and Dr Gonzi.

The council is scheduled to meet on September 22. The last time it met, Mr Engerer presented a motion of no confidence against Mr Dimech after the former mayor pleaded not guilty in court to charges of bribery and reviling a police officer.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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