Great expectations

The truth is that the longer Robert Abela takes to decide on an election date, the better for the Nationalist Party and Bernard Grech

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Many are expecting the Prime Minister and Labour leader Robert Abela to announce the general election in the coming days. It could be as early as the 12th or 19th March. 

It could be that Abela procrastinates, toys with the PN just a little more, and goes for a May election. If he had held the election in November he would have achieved another record for the Labour party with a potential voting majority of 40,000 votes.

The truth is that the longer he takes to decide on an election date, the better for the Nationalist Party and Bernard Grech. 

It is already abundantly clear that the majority of ‘non committal’ Nationalist voters have returned to the PN fold, and the real unknown domain are the voters who ‘do not know’ how they will vote, who are in their vast majority Nationalist-leaning, or those who say they ‘will not vote.’ 

The latter probably are upset and angry Labourites who will never vote for the PN and cannot get themselves to vote for another party.

The election result is important for both sides, and as expected for very different reasons.

For Robert Abela, an improvement on the 2017 election result for Labour will be his greatest achievement and give him the green card to implement change and reform victory in the next administration. However to achieve this it will be an achievement that transcends all political logic. For against Abela, there is the after-taste of the Muscat legacy, the economic uncertainty that came with COVID, and the litany of hiccups from errant ministers that he faced in his two year tenure. 

On the plus side, his no-nonsense approach and zero tolerance to impropriety, the ability to keep the economy going in the pandemic, and his attempt to disconnect from the Muscat legacy are all positives.

From PN leader Bernard Grech’s perspective,  success in the next election is anything less than the PN’s disastrous electoral 2017 vote.

But this is also open to interpretation, because a slight dip from the 35,000 difference will not be enough of a good reason to celebrate. So the question is: what is the magic number that will allow the PN need to declare some form of triumph – 25,000, 20,000 or 18,000 voters difference?

Bernard Grech’s success hinges on a number of factors. The first is the ability to get Robert Abela to make mistakes; the second is Grech’s ability to convince the business community that he is a better player than Robert Abela; and the third is his ability to win back all those disgruntled PN voters and even attract some Labour voters to vote PN, even though the latter does not appear to be the case. Tall order.

Over and over again I have said that it is ‘the economy stupid’. Indeed, those that think that corruption and sleaze accusations reinforce the PN’s electoral strength are completely wrong.

So much so that those politicians who champion the anti-corruption cause seem to be suffering seriously in the polls. Clearly, it’s a sign that many are experiencing political fatigue and simply tired of hearing the same battle cry.

Political parties go to elections with manifestos or electoral programmes, but these are not the reasons voters vote for one party or another.

Robert Abela would be wise to call an election now. It could serve to address some of the unresolved issues that we have faced as a country. And it could also open up to the possibility of putting behind us many of the burdens and anxieties that have dominated this country in the last five years.

If Robert Abela opts for postponing the election date once again he could be walking down a dangerous path, for himself, his party and the country. 

We need a government with a clear electoral victory and majority. But we also need some new faces in parliament and an administration with the nerve to catapult this country into the next phase of its nationhood.

It will be a phase that will determine whether we want to be just another small island-state struggling with its raison d’etre, or a nation willing to serve as a beacon to others in the European club. That requires a radical vision however, and also a commitment to return Malta to a state of normality in terms of good governance and economic administration.