Robert's dilemma

What is our PM waiting for to come clean and finally let go those who dragged the PL so deep in the mud? This dragging of feet is becoming more and more politically untenable and counterproductive

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Malta’s Constitution sets out limits by when an election must be called, but it gives the Prime Minister the faculty to call the election whenever he wants, so long as it is not beyond the statutory limit.

This has always been perceived as an advantage to the incumbent who can choose the time of the election, sometimes with the added advantage of catching the opposition napping.

Has this privilege become a conundrum for Robert Abela?

One cannot deny that he is doing a lot to clean Malta from the Muscat legacy. To many it might seem this is not enough – to others he seems to be too cautious so as to avoid shocking the party faithful, more so those who still think highly of Joseph Muscat.

Manoeuvring through the rough seas provoked by these two extremes is now being more complicated by the possibility of Abela calling an election sooner rather than later.

Apart from the recent history, I can think of only one more Labour misadventure in my lifetime. This was when, for all intents and purposes, Lorry Sant practically ousted Mintoff from the control of the Labour Party, following the 1981 ‘perverse’ election result. Then Mintoff made a startling comeback and managed to save our basic democracy, when after some dramatic negotiations, the Constitution was amended in 1987 to ensure that in particular circumstances the perversity would not be repeated and the party who got over 50% of the votes could not be cheated of power. Then, the great majority of Labour MPs actually backed Lorry Sant. But Mintoff was no Joseph Muscat: he took it on the chin and did what was best for Malta. To me this was his finest hour.

Later, Sant even went as far as to openly blackmail Mintoff with some very compromising evidence of a personal nature. By that time he had already lost the battle.

But that is the past from which we never learn. Today the Labour leader faces a different but dangerous dilemma.

Meanwhile, Malta muddles through the current political tragedy we are living. The country tries to continue to try to get to the bottom of the rot, only to find it was even deeper than we ever imagined.

In the circumstances, however, some may ask themselves what is really the difference between the Labour and the PN.

Definitely any serious ideological differences are long gone. Both are equally left-leaning and pro-capitalist at the same time, although some contend that the PL even moved more to the right than the PN when it partly privatized the management of health services and the provision of electricity.

Corruption seems to be the sticking point. Well, the more informed of both sides, seem to think that many in both parties earn high marks on this score – although corruption seems to have no limits under Labour that tends to be more ham-handed with corruption being uncovered more frequently.

So what is the difference? Not an easy question to answer but could it be that the PL has the unique and nasty habit of being hijacked by gangsters, as our President remarkably put it?

Robert Abela has enacted a long list of reforms, as set out by the Venice Commission – quite a radical change from the legal framework inherited from our colonial past, when all that mattered was passed on from the colonial master to our Prime Minister; even though the old set-up worked quite well, assuming as it did, that whoever called the shots was a gentleman not a gangster.

Still, as more dirty evidence invariably turns up in court, poor Robert had to run the gauntlet – with the COVID-19 pandemic thrown in for good measure. The list of damning resignations is endless and will no doubt become longer: MPs, police officers, chairmen of regulatory bodies, and so on. And – probably – there are more on the way.

What is our PM waiting for to come clean and finally let go those who dragged the PL so deep in the mud? This dragging of feet is becoming more and more politically untenable and counterproductive. Or is the plotted route one where he will finally let go and win the next election that is now within sight; and that he can call at the snap of a finger? He will be than be elected PM on his own merits rather than being considered the best option available to take over the Muscat legacy. He will certainly be a stronger PM than he is now, irrespective of the majority he gets, and he will be strong enough to do what he desires. For many this would mean recreating Labour as a clean set-up.

This leads Labour into another dilemma. Despite what has been revealed, the Muscat legacy is still considered as a fantastic one by many of the Labour rank and file, in spite of the rampant corruption that is now acknowledged by all. Labour’s rank and file has never disowned Muscat. In fact the situation is exactly the opposite: Muscat’s time in power is still perceived as Labour’s golden years. That is why many suspect that any more ‘cleansing’ to remove Muscat’s legacy has to be postponed until after the election – leading to the dilemma Robert Abela is facing.

Frankly, much should have been evident as soon as the Panama Papers became public. But, in spite of the revelations at the time, Labour was elected with a landslide for a second time. Since then Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated and a lot about how the corruption took place has been uncovered.

We have seen a lot of corruption on this and the other, but Labour’s bliss conjured by the complete ignorance of the moral high ground was the most heinous aspect of this sorry story. No doubt, Machiavelli was right when he said the there is no relation between morals and politics.

This is the unhappy choice that Robert Abela has to face. Will Labour go to the polls with a score of skeletons in the cupboard? This practically means asking the voters to endorse the dirt of the Muscat legacy for the second time in five years, after even much more dirt was uncovered. And this raises the doubt as to whether Labour will ever come clean!

It is in the interest of the nation that Labour comes clean now, so that if it wins the next election it will be from the high moral ground.

And, moreover, to teach the Labour rank and file that what happened is all wrong and that the Muscat Legacy is not something labour should be boasting about.

Labour coming clean now is the right thing to do, in spite of the risk that many Labour supporters might become disgruntled.

Robert Abela knows it, and should realise that the temptation to postpone this until after another election could prove his undoing.