No, it is not ‘in the national interest’ (in fact, it’s not even in Robert Abela’s)

The present level of election uncertainty, a major concern among Maltese businesses, will not only be unnecessarily prolonged for anywhere up to eight or nine weeks; but intensify considerably, the closer we get to the event itself

All this election uncertainty, I mean. The fact that – with only around 13 weeks to go before ‘D-Day’ (almost literally, as it happens: the last election was, after all, held on 6 June) – we still have no idea when this blessed election will even take place… what it is (or isn’t) going to coincide with… how long the campaign is going to take… or how much of our personal plans may end up being disrupted, when we eventually get an answer…

… you know: all the boring-but-important details that we urgently need to be informed about: even just because, without that information, we cannot possibly even start planning ahead, for what already looks like a very ‘uncertain’ future indeed. (Let’s face it: the date of General Election 2022 should arguably be the least of our concerns. For further details, look under: Russia; Ukraine; COVID recovery; post COVID recession; inflation; grey-listing, etc., etc., etc.)

At the same time, however: this is also one of those articles that might easily get overtaken by events, before I even reach the end of this sentence.

Because if my own, back-of-envelope calculations are correct: the window of opportunity for a March election is now closing… FAST.

So unless Prime Minister Robert Abela finally bites the bullet, and makes the announcement some time in (literally) the next few hours… well, all other indications (including, but not limited to, the Papal visit) point towards any time between the last weekend of April, and the first weekend of June.

And that means that the present level of election uncertainty – already (as shall be seen) a major concern among Maltese businesses – will not only be unnecessarily prolonged for anywhere up to eight or nine weeks; but it is almost certain to intensify considerably, the closer we get to the event itself.

But like I said: all this might easily change – by means of a simple announcement by the Prime Minister – at just about any moment. Even so, however: it still wouldn’t change the relevance of what I consider to be the core question at stake here.

Why? Why has the Prime Minister so stubbornly (and deliberately, as far as I can see) chosen to keep us all on tenterhooks for so long?

Not merely in the sense that he failed to meet popular expectations, by calling an election last October… because even I myself wrote, at the time, that those ‘popular expectations’ may have all along been unreasonable. There was no pressing need for Abela to call an election almost a year early (at least, not from his own perspective); and there were other reasons for Abela to eye a date much closer to the end of his own government’s, five-year mandate…

But that was October 2021; and this is February 2022. We are soon entering the second quarter of what is, after all, a scheduled election year.

So to announce the date for, say, 28 March – as the Prime Minister is still only just in time to do – could not conceivably be described as ‘calling the election early’, by any stretch of the imagination.

Besides: with all polls concurring that Labour still enjoys an unassailable lead, which cannot realistically be whittled down in the short time remaining… well, we can all safely assert that the so-called ‘early election jinx’ has been well and truly lifted, by now. Labour certainly CAN do a full five-year term… if it so chooses.

Either way, however: even if Robert Abela’s intention is to doggedly sit it out, right through to the last calendar date available...  there is still nothing stopping him from just letting us all know, from now.

He could still just announce the date - however many weeks it is, from today - so that each party could then simply decide when, and how, to best organize their own campaigns [Note: independent candidate Arnold Cassola inaugurated his own campaign yesterday, for instance. And the PN have been campaigning, informally, for at least around six months already…]

So that ‘core question’ I alluded to earlier, is ultimately much more about Abela’s motives to prolong all this uncertainty… rather than the uncertainty itself. And the only answer he has given us to date (most recently, on this week’s Xtra) is that ‘the national interest will determine the date of the next election’.

Hmmm. OK, let’s get one small thing out of the way.

I don’t exactly blame Robert Abela, for doing what so many other Maltese prime ministers – all of them, in fact – have always done before him: i.e., conflating their own political interests, with those of ‘the nation’.

For let’s be honest: not only is it the sort of thing that comes naturally, to people in positions of power; but it is also the sort of thing we ourselves only ever recognize as a problem – still less, actively complain about it - when the Prime Minister’s interests happen to conflict with our own.

And Maltese history is so replete with examples, that I can almost literally single out any action, by any government, all the way back to Independence (and probably before).

In fact: let’s start with that, shall we? However ‘lame’ and ‘timid’ the Nationalist government’s approach to Independence might have appeared, back in the early 1960s… I’m fairly convinced that Gorg Borg Olivier himself genuinely believed he was ‘acting in the national interest’, by accepting an accord which left large parts of the country still under British control (including, as it happens, the Head of State).

Admittedly, others such as Dom Mintoff saw things differently. But in all fairness, I can’t exactly criticise Borg Olivier for concluding that – all things considered – it did make a tiny amount of political sense, back then, to try and sever our ties with Britain as ‘amicably’, and ‘painlessly’, as possible.

And yes: I can also see Borg Olivier simultaneously reaching the conclusion that… if it serves my own interests, and also the country’s… then… erm… why the hell not, anyway?

As for Mintoff… let’s just say that he himself was so famous (or notorious) for ‘conflating the national interest with his own’, that it even became the title of a satirical publication in the 1970s: ‘Mhux Fl-Interess Tal-Poplu’…

But if there’s one example of this ‘national-versus-personal interest’ motif that truly stands out, it must be Eddie Fenech Adami: and in particular, his drive for Malta to join the European Union, between 1992 and 2003.

Was Eddie Fenech Adami serving the national interest, or his own, by hitching the Nationalist Party’s electoral fortunes to the promise of EU membership?  If you only look at the extraordinary pay-off for the PN – which won four out of five elections; and practically annihilated Alfred Sant’s MLP in the process – then yes, certainly. No doubt about it. ‘Joining the EU’ served Eddie’s own political purposes very, VERY well indeed, thank you very much…

But there is no doubt in my mind – none whatsoever – that Eddie himself (on both a political, and personal level) firmly believed that he WAS, in fact, acting ‘in Malta’s national interest’. And from there, you can’t really fault him, for reasoning that he was fully justified (or ‘on the right side of history’, as he himself liked to put it) in ‘exploiting the national interest, for his own political ends’.

What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is…. there’s nothing wrong with Robert Abela trying to do the same thing today.

Or at least, there wouldn’t be… if he could only demonstrate that ‘prolonging the electoral uncertainty’ really IS ‘in the national interest’, like he claims it to be.

Because I’ll be damned if I can see either how, or why, myself; and it looks like I’m not the only one to be confused. For instance: at the end of last January, the Chamber of Commerce published the results of an internal survey among its members.

It turns out that ‘General Election Uncertainty’ came in at number three (3), in a Top-10 list of Malta’s ‘most pressing concerns in 2022’. Not only that; but the only two issues of greater concern, to Maltese businesses, were: a) ‘Increase in costs in general’, and; b) ‘COVID-19 recovery’.

And this means a number of things. In the first place, it means that Maltese businesses are a good deal MORE worried about the election date, than about (and I quote): ‘increasing labour costs’; ‘increased regulation and compliance’; ‘lack of tourists’ [!]; ‘Issues with Banking Services’ [!!]; and… [please note that I’m actually leaving out a few categories here]… ‘Repayment of debts’ [!!!!]…

And, well, that sort of gives us all indication of just how damaging the current, intolerable situation already is, for the economy… and how much greater the damage will eventually prove, the longer the uncertainty is dragged out.

The other thing it means, however, is that there is at least one (1) of those ‘major business concerns’, that Prime Minister Robert Abela himself could very easily do something about (and just by uttering a handful of words, too!) For obvious reasons, it isn’t ‘Increasing costs generally’… and for even more obvious reasons, it certainly isn’t going to be the COVID-pandemic, is it?

No: the one-and-only thing Robert Abela CAN do, to at least (if nothing else) lower the national tension-levels, over the next few months… is the one thing that he himself argues is ‘not in the national interest’ to actually do.

At which point, you really do have to ask: whose ‘interest’ does Robert Abela even think he’s serving, anyway?