Just two Labour candidates may take up the seat vacated by former prime minister Joseph Muscat in the upcoming election, and all indications are that former parliamentary secretary Stefan Buontempo is set to return to Parliament.
Muscat chose to make a surprise announcement following adjournment on Monday, stating that he did not wish for any ceremony around it.
As he had done in the 2013 general election, Muscat had eschewed his home district – the twelfth, which includes Burmarrad – in the 2017 election in favour of contesting in two Labour strongholds: the second and fifth districts.
After being comfortably elected from both districts, he vacated his fifth district seat, paving the way for the election of Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi who had barely missed out on being elected.
The upcoming casual election will thus fill what had been his second district seat.
While there were no less than 10 Labour Party candidates, including Muscat, only two unelected candidates may contest the election.
Carmelo Abela, Chris Agius, Glenn Bedingfield, Byron Camilleri, Deo Debattista and Joe Mizzi have already been elected to Parliament, while the list of candidates also includes Helena Dalli, who resigned from Parliament to become European Commissioner for Equality.
That leaves Buontempo and Mark Causon, a former Pembroke local councillor.
But Buontempo had performed considerably better than Causon in the 2017 election, though both received few first-count votes, not least because Muscat received the vast majority of Labour’s first-count votes in the district.
Buontempo, who had been served three terms in Parliament, received 98 first-count votes. Causon received just 9.
However, a clearer indication of how the casual election may go may be seen in the second count, in which Muscat’s 10,612 excess votes were distributed among other candidates.
The former parliamentary secretary inherited 431 of these votes to Causon’s 32, suggesting he would similarly inherit a greater share of votes in the casual election.
Buontempo’s surname also puts him first alphabetically, allowing him to benefit from the so-called “donkey vote,” in which voters just go down the party list in order, possibly after choosing their few favourites.