The curious case of Toni Abela

The PN’s silly attack on him during the election campaign, regarding the infamous ‘block of ice’ incident, never really dented his perceived integrity

Joseph Muscat’s decision to choose Labour Deputy Leader for Party Affairs, Toni Abela as Malta’s nominee for the European Court of Auditors raises a number of intriguing questions. Abela replaces PN stalwart Louis Galea who had been nominated to the post five years ago by the then Gonzi administration.

Many people’s reaction is that Toni Abela has been kicked upstairs by a cunning PM who wants to strengthen his hold on the party. The possibility of Toni Abela wanting to leave the party post without inflicting collateral damage has practically not been mentioned by anybody. My reckoning is that either possibility could be the case, if not both.

Toni Abela is a colourful personality who has had a colourful political career. He was MLP president when he was chucked out of the party when he – together with Wenzu Mintoff – ventured to show openly their displeasure with the corruption that had characterised the Mintoff regime, especially by Lorry Sant. The two plucky ‘young Turks’ ended up being thrown out from their own party and helped in the founding of Alternattiva Demokratika (AD). Wenzu Mintoff, who was an Opposition MP, remained in Parliament ‘representing’ AD – the only time there was an AD presence in the House of Representatives.

Eventually both returned to the fold with Wenzu Mintoff assuming the editorship of Labour’s organ ‘KullHadd’ and Toni Abela being elected as Deputy Leader for Party Affairs. Today Wenzu Mintoff is a Judge and, as such, he is completely out of the political fray. Wenzu left the party and the ‘KullHadd’ editorship, handing that responsibility to Toni. And now Toni is also leaving.

Is it the case that there is no place for genuine and honest – albeit naive and idealistic –politicians in the Labour Party? Toni Abela’s departure from the local political scene seems to signify as much.

For some time, before and after Labour was elected to power in March 2013, I have had the opportunity to meet Toni Abela quite often, particularly during my ‘coffee morning sessions’ in Valletta. Toni is an affable man possessing a cultural insight and knowhow that surprises everyone who comes to know him closely, and despite his apparent defects, I find no difficulty in concluding that he is a genuinely honest person: and that is how the Labour grassroots look at him.

That is why the PN’s silly attack on him during the election campaign in 2013, regarding the infamous ‘block of ice’ incident, never really dented his perceived integrity. It was obvious that the phone call that was used in the attempt to nail him had been maliciously recorded and disseminated by someone who was being disciplined by Abela and the PN should have realised this in the first place.

During the years since Labour has been in power, Toni was ‘awarded’ a number of consultancies with various ministries. I do not know what sort of input and service Toni was providing for the money that was being dished out to him and this issue could be the only one that sticks out like a sore thumb in his otherwise impeccable political ‘adventure’.

Yet, I have no doubt that in an unseen way, Toni was acting as the conscience of the current administration – pricking it whenever it failed and when it should have done better. Recent editorials in the Labour party organ ‘KullHadd’ that were written by him – an open secret to many – invariably contained a few sentences of subtle criticism of the

way things were being run by the administration, more often than not drowned in an inundation of harsh attacks against the Opposition and the PN leader.

I think this was very courageous of him and signalled that he had given up on keeping his criticism of the present administration ‘in camera’ – behind closed doors.

In this background both theories about what is behind the decision for Toni to leave local politics make sense. Are Toni Abela and Joseph Muscat fed up of each other? Is Muscat intent on tightening his hold on the party?

Add to this the fact that Joseph Muscat dares not touch the present Cabinet set-up, as any move could raise too much reaction and internal dissent. The decision to be able to nominate someone from outside the Cabinet for Malta’s seat in the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg was therefore an added bonus for Muscat.

Surprisingly, Minister Konrad Mizzi is being touted as Toni Abela’s successor. Muscat seems to have faith in the way Mizzi attacks problems and modernising the running of the Labour Party itself could be considered as a bonus, even though Mizzi is hardly a well known and popular figure among Labour delegates. They will probably be given no choice, as Konrad Mizzi seems to be heading to being the only candidate for the post.

Unfortunately this is the sort of thing that happens behind the scenes in Maltese political parties. The party bosses ensure that their anointed candidate makes it to the post that he or she has been hand picked for. Others were mentioned, but apparently they were somehow dissuaded from putting their name forward. 

Much like Rosette Thake becoming PN secretary-general!

Inverted reflections

I was flabbergasted last Tuesday when I read the opening paragraph of an opinion piece (Talking Point) written by Labour MP Etienne Grech in the ‘Times of Malta’.

He opened his piece by declaring: ‘I have always marvelled at the way politicians from the Nationalist Party almost always manage to turn a situation on its head. So much so that sometimes it almost seems as if they have created a parallel reality. In this surreal world, lies become truth, instigators morph into heroes, and perpetrators are reduced to victims.’

In a jiffy, I replaced ‘Nationalist Party’ with ‘Labour Party’ and hey presto, I got the opinion of all PN MPs and supporters about how Labour works!

This is one country with two rival tribes sharing the same DNA with the underlying biases of the two sides being actually so much the same. No one can say that we are not all brothers and sisters, all sons and daughters of this ‘fair’ land!

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