Call an election

Prime Minister Robert Abela needs to be his own man, and one that can take this small Island State through the necessary changes that were wilfully neglected in the years of the tiger economy of Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Many Labourites believe Prime Minister Robert Abela should not go for an early general election. They argue that they should not shorten their right to govern for a five-year term. There are a few who will disagree with this argument.

If Robert Abela is to sail into harbour with his own choice of men and women, with his own particular vision, he needs to reinvent his party with new faces and a fresh mandate.

It does not mean that he should side-line from his party all those who worked in the Muscat administration, for the hugest mistake that anyone could make is concluding that the Muscat administration and the people who worked within it did nothing for this country and are not worthy individuals.

For Abela to take his party to an early election he must be able to underline (equally) the successes of the Muscat years as well as its faults.

I could venture to list them myself. Joseph Muscat’s greatest achievement, to the chagrin of many Labourite hard-liners and Nationalists, was opening up to the business community irrespective of political colour and history; of opening up to new ventures with a clear economic vision, and setting the tone for a liberal economic policy that resulted in unrivalled economic growth; it created a new generation of entrepreneurs and most of them were probably not partisan voters or even Labour voters.

On the social front, there was disbelief among conservatives and the Church as Malta embraced radical gender and LGBT rights and reforms in record time, placing Malta’s standing in social reforms in a league of its own. Moreover, it disenfranchised the elites that dominated Maltese society for so long, by being sensitive to various niche groups. Even in fiscal terms, Muscat managed to emancipate many low-income groups, such as pensioners and first-time home-buyers.

But on the flipside, Muscat’s Realpolitik was a hidden agenda that had aimed to enrich people at the top. Environmental standards and values were sacrificed. And his administration tolerated corruption and failed to act when facts surfaced that pointed to the involvement or the intent of top public officials in sleaze. There seemed to be no limit to greed.

All this would not have come to light, and certainly would not have hit us in the face as hard as it did had the life of Daphne Caruana Galizia not been cut brutally short by those who were emboldened by this climate of greed. Her murderers are intrinsically and unabashedly linked to her investigation into their secret financial structures or criminal activities.

In another world, this assassination would have led to the demise of the Labour party. But this did not happen, because the electorate could not associate themselves with the opposition at the time which they linked with previous Nationalist administrations under Lawrence Gonzi. Had the Muscat years been dominated by economic strife and despair, the public response to that could have very well have been different. 

Robert Abela responded to the events of November 2019, with reforms which were long coming. He has attempted to find a balance between the needs of the country and the community but he has been overshadowed by a crisis of unexpected proportions that no one could have expected.

We may question many of his decisions in the COVID pandemic, but when we look back I am sure that his resistance to a strict lockdown worked in favour of keeping many businesses alive and retaining some sanity and continuity in daily life. Thankfully, a resilient and well-financed health system kept us in good health, unlike in many other European countries.

His next challenge is to ensure an efficient roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines, and the general feeling is that the vaccination programme is too slow. The country needs to vaccinate the whole population in the shortest time possible with the utilisation of all its medical and paramedical staff, even those who may not be full-timers at this moment. Attaining early herd immunity is a priority.

Having said this, I think that Robert Abela’s best bet is to go for an election with the mandate to do a clear five years. He needs to be his own man, and one that can take this small Island State through the necessary changes that were wilfully neglected in the years of the tiger economy of Joseph Muscat.

Needless to say, the next challenge is the reform in education, and by this I mean addressing much-needed changes in the way educators interact with our children, and the development of our economy and foreign direct investment, as well as the menace of conflict in the Mediterranean, and migration pressures. Of paramount importance is protecting our national footprint and addressing our outdated planning laws, having more green lungs inside our urban zones, and giving a safe space to the debate on abortion and euthanasia.

American zero

The scenes on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. after Donald Trump’s inflammatory speech to a motley crowd of far-rightists, white supremacists, Christian zealots and conspiratorial Trumpians is perhaps a snapshot of the worst that American society has to offer right now.

Trump does not represent a fringe group in the world’s richest state, a nation that demands so much from others and professes that is the most democratic nation in the world. Trump was elected because so many Americans truly believe his rhetoric. Apart from the fact that he is probably mentally unstable, his success is a result of electoral support from a massive segment of American society that is simply ignorant and outrageously mediocre.

America is a nation with an uncontained COVID mortality rate, a health system that is inaccessible to those without a high income, a society that refutes compassion and is built on the power of money and the dollar.

The next time someone preaches about the American dream, we all know what our answer will be. I’d be too callous to have it published in this column.