The other adversary

Will Robert finally manage to shake off Joseph Muscat after he is re-elected Prime Minister? That is the great unknown

Joseph Muscat still enjoys a lot of political support
Joseph Muscat still enjoys a lot of political support

We are used to elections were the leaders of the PL and the PN are the main protagonists – and antagonists – trying to get every vote possible for their party.

The one this year is different.

The Prime Minister, Robert Abela, is in fact fighting on two fronts. One is the traditional one against the PN and its leader – a fight that has become a subdued competition more than it ever was. The other is the virtual fight against his predecessor, Joseph Muscat, who is ‘contesting’ the election in an implicit manner.

Those who believe that Labour should cut its ties with Joseph Muscat are finding that the election might not solve their problem, as they might have thought. According to a survey commissioned by The Times, 36.3% of Labour voters still prefer Muscat as their party’s leader while Abela enjoys the support of only 47.1% of Labour voters.

This is a spectre that must be haunting Abela no end. It is a situation that is unprecedented in Maltese political history. In the history of the Labour Party, it reminds one of the split that happened after Mintoff led a rebelion against Pawlu Boffa’s leadership so many years ago.

But the situation is much more different now. In fact, it borders on the bizarre as Joseph Muscat was ousted from leader by his own Cabinet and not by the party members – the tesserati. They were given the choice of choosing Muscat’s successor but not of whether they wanted Muscat – warts and all – to stay as party leader.

More so, the problem will not disappear just because Robert Abela continually ignores it and acts as if it doesn’t exist. Muscat is clever enough to avoid meeting Robert Abela on the campaign trail. He ostensibly ‘helps’ some Labour candidates who think they need his help to get elected, more so in areas where Muscat enjoys a lot of personal political support. He does this when he is sure that Abela is busy elsewhere. Is he helping Labour win the election? Hardly. Some would-be Labour voters might be miffed with Muscat’s electoral activity as it signifies Labour has not shaken off Muscat and his spectre. In some areas, people will not look at this as if it was insignificant and it might end up to be a disadvantage to Robert Abela.

It is well known that a number of short-sighted Labour candidates are turning to Muscat to ensure that they will be elected as MPs, even though all polls indicate that Labour is set to win the election. But the more important issue is whether this victory will give Abela the strength to be his own man and take decisions without undue interference from a Joseph Muscat who is seeking to protect himself and his record.

Meanwhile, Bernard Grech is facing a hard grind in his attempt to reduce the margin between the votes garnered by the two parties. It seems that he is making small steps in this direction – too small to lead to a PN victory but big enough to satisfy PN supporters who cannot stand seeing their party humiliated; as has happened in the last two elections when Muscat managed to win by high margins – the highest ever in the last 60 years. The PN has gone from one extreme to another from solely concentrating to corruption under Labour – as happened under the leadership of Simon Busuttil – to being more positive, attempting to entice voters by promising a better life.

Corruption is not high on the PN’s agenda. The PN has finally learned that those who stand by Labour can only be lured to vote PN by the promise of a better life – even if corruption sanctioned by the state was never so rife in Malta.

Those who think that corruption is a serious issue have already made their minds. Many will not vote either way and will abstain or deface their ballot sheet. This could close the gap between the two parties by half the amount it would have were these people who voted Labour in the past to switch to the PN.

While we all know who will be Prime Minister after the election, the real battle for Labour’s soul will start immediately after the official results are known.

Robert Abela’s adversary is officially Bernard Grech and there does not seem to be any bad blood between the two leaders.

For Robert Abela, however, the real adversary is still Joseph Muscat.

Will Robert finally manage to shake off Joseph Muscat after he is re-elected Prime Minister? That is the great unknown.

Putin at war

Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine is not turning out as Putin might have foreseen when he embarked on this mad attempt to ensure that Russian’s status in Europe reverts to what it was during the cold war.

Putin has thrown his usual calculation and caution to the wind and launched a rash and fundamentally unwinnable war against Ukraine.

International observers think that at this point it is worth examining where Putin’s vulnerabilities lie; and how unfolding economic collapse, international isolation and the likely failure to achieve his goal of a quick take-over of the Ukrainian state could eventually undermine him.

Some in the West seem to believe that Putin might be deposed by top generals who realise his plans are doomed. Last week, UK Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly claimed that Russian military chiefs know that Putin is increasingly ‘isolated’ and ‘illogical’ as he tries to “recreate a Russian empire in his mind… they are in a position to stop this and we call on them to do so”.

There is no evidence that this could happen and this was probably just wishful thinking with Putin here to stay for much more.

On the other hand, the steady stream of very detailed operational information on Putin’s war plans that was publicly broadcast in Washington and London came from a highly placed spy or spies close to the Russian military.

Meanwhile, Putin has managed to change Europe’s mood and heart in two days. Even former Putin sympathisers Germany and Hungary have come on board with sanctions that put Russia on a par with pariah states such as North Korea and Iran.

But those rogue nations, some of them sanctioned for decades, show little sign of falling apart or moderating their aggressive behaviour.

Recent history has shown that sanctions tend to entrench dictatorships, not bring them down.

They are more of a punishment rather than a deterrent.