The Maltese parliament was dissolved on Monday (7 January), in advance of a general election that is scheduled for 9 March.
Malta's MEPs seem to be taking an increasingly prominent role in the election campaign that is now well under way. Just before Christmas the centre-right Nationalist Party promoted Simon Busuttil, an MEP since 2004, to replace Tonio Borg as the party's deputy leader – Borg having become European commissioner for health and consumer policy. Busuttil, who also becomes campaign manager, is 43 and being presented as the fresh face of the Nationalists to balance Lawrence Gonzi, the veteran prime minister, who has been trailing badly in opinion polls.
Gonzi's main challenger is the leader of the Labour Party, Joseph Muscat, himself a former MEP. Muscat is still a few days shy of his 40th birthday, but the Labour Party apparently felt the need for a makeover to cope with the threat from Busuttil. So Ang?lu Farrugia was ditched as deputy leader. The official line was that he resigned on 20 December because of comments he made about alleged political bias by a member of the judiciary. The more plausible reason was that he was ditched after a below-par performance in a television debate with Busuttil.
Farrugia was replaced by Louis Grech, like Busuttil a member of the European Parliament since 2004. Grech, who is a former chief executive of the national airline Air Malta, is a vice-chairman of the Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee.