The waiting game is on

Robert Abela has kept everyone on tenterhooks with the election date and that includes his own ministers, his party administration and his closest associates

Prime Minister Robert Abela
Prime Minister Robert Abela

Once again, everyone is waiting for the great announcement – the date for the next general election. It is said that today Labour leader and Prime Minister Robert Abela could yet give an indication that he will hold an election and it will be the 26th March, a week before the Papal visit. It would have gone against all predictions and it will mean a very short political campaign.

He did say in his interview on Xtra that he wants a big majority. By a big majority, he means one vote more than the Joseph Muscat landslide victory of 2017. It does not really matter that there will be more voters in 2022 and that 16-year-olds will be voting for the first time. The most important message to be had here is that in people’s minds, Abela would have beaten Muscat by one vote.

Robert Abela has kept everyone on tenterhooks with the election date and that includes his own ministers, his party administration and his closest associates. 

The thing about Abela is that most of the people who have started to work for him and even those who work closely with him, are still learning about his personality and routines and habits.

Indeed, every character is full of surprises and unknowns. And deciphering Abela is no simple or easy task. To start with, he feels uncomfortable with protocol, and takes advantage of his photographic memory to remember details and chapters from one’s life. He tries to avoid confrontation, but if he does confront, then he becomes sharp and brutal. The law courts and politics have refined these virtues.

I once thought that it was Joseph Muscat who played chess in his mind. But Abela plays chess too, yet he is always moving his knight and queen back and forth, until he is more than sure about his final decision.

Not a great socialite, in the sense that he loves his own time with boating, cycling and the gym, Abela in short keeps both his admirers and detractors pondering and wondering.

And he has the ability not to show what he is thinking while keeping everyone guessing. And in war, unpredictability will always be an asset. But in politics it is also a risk.

In his leadership bid, Robert Abela surprised all his adversaries to come out of nowhere to snatch the crown. Two potential candidates, Miriam Dalli and Ian Borg, chose not to contest to leave him  to run against Chris Fearne, who was simply too over-confident for his own good in that race.

And in two years in office, Abela has had to face the music and decapitate errant ministers in a bid to uphold his moral authority. COVID-19 may have also have helped him assert his authority and quell those who were more than ready to pounce on him. 

On policy and political direction, Abela has continued to implement Labour’s manifesto, but it is unclear what lies beyond if he is to be re-elected.

On matters pertaining to the rule of law, he has played ball and showed willingness to accede to many of the requests put on the State. Yet he is probably realising that he needs to strike a balance between the need to regulate without coming across as too restrictive.

And although always willing to give a comment to the press, he is not one who sits eagerly for interviews. 

Abela entered politics leaving behind a very successful legal profession that spanned the private and public sector. Yet that profession has also served the Opposition, who have attempted and are attempting to perforate his seemingly virginal past.

The problem with attacking Abela, is that his rivals cannot understand that they cannot treat him in the same way they treated former politicians and political leaders.

Today Abela will address his soldiers at a party event on the achievements of the last eight years. He will tell them that there is no alternative to Labour and that Labour will guarantee the highest quality of life in Malta and the best for its people.

With controlled inflation, limited changes to taxation, a stable economy, no major economic crisis, and eight years of economic growth, Abela’s opponents have a steep mountain to climb. 

Most of the PN leaders admit that their time may have not yet come. And Abela may still surprise many with his political manifesto.

But it will be not an easy election. Much of Labour’s shine is gone and the shadow of corruption and murder are not simply lingering thoughts. They are realities embedded in Malta’s modern history and in the popular psyche.

But even that has worked in Abela’s favour, for political fatigue has worked against the Opposition, not him. 

A reduced majority in the next election could invigorate the Opposition, and a global downturn in economic growth and a hike in energy prices together with the great challenges in the environmental and social fields, will make Robert Abela’s life a very trying, and at times grim prospect.

Time will tell. Politics is no straight line as we have learnt. All we can do is to wait!