MEP election is stiff yellow card to Labour

With a heavily reduced gap, it is clear to everyone that the Labour Party was shown a stiff yellow card by the people. It is a strong message by an angry, disgruntled and disappointed electorate, and Prime Minister Robert Abela must reflect deep and hard on this strong message 

The Labour Party won the European Parliament election by obtaining the most votes but the truth is that the outcome was far away from the victory its officials have painted it to be. 

For starters, the result is beyond the expectations Robert Abela and the leadership had set themselves in the run up to the election. The government pulled every stop to ensure all benefits due as per the budget were dished out in the past four weeks; it stepped in to placate discontent by white taxi operators by introducing geo-fencing in key locations; it rushed to try and conclude the sectoral agreement for educators and when teachers pushed back government sent out information emails to every educator; the government did all it could to use its largesse to massage the electorate in every way it could. 

Abela wanted another super majority to strengthen his hand internally at a time when his predecessor got the party grass roots excited. 

But the electorate did not play ball. With a heavily reduced gap, it is clear to everyone that the PL was shown a stiff yellow card by the people. It is a strong message by an angry, disgruntled and disappointed electorate. Abela must reflect deep and hard on this strong message. 

He must also reflect on his own actions since the beginning of the year when he embarked on a process to rehabilitate Joseph Muscat. It is a shame that Abela first toyed with the idea of fielding Muscat as an MEP candidate and ended up acting as his defence lawyer throughout the Vitals scandal saga. 

And if this was not enough, Abela also allowed the former prime minister a platform on the party radio station when it was known that Muscat was facing serious criminal charges. 

These were signals of a Prime Minister who lost control of his party’s destiny. Abela opened a window in the belief that he was letting in a breeze that would energise the grassroots and ended up reaping a whirlwind he could not control. 

Abela and the party leadership forgot that since 2008, the PL’s electorate has grown to become varied in composition. Apart from its grassroots it counted as its voters, moderates and middle of the ground people, who felt comfortable with the party messaging, economic direction and reformist mentality. 

But this electorate, which stuck with the PL over the past eight years despite multiple corruption scandals and rampant nepotism, felt the latest scandal involving the hospitals deal and Abela’s embrace of Muscat were one step too far. 

Abela can either persist with his criticism of the judiciary, journalists and all the world asunder by sticking to his ‘establishment’ mantra, or take a step back and allow the judicial process in the Vitals scandal to take its course without interference. Abela can continue acting as Muscat’s defence lawyer or make a conscious decision to distance himself and the party from the disgraceful actions of the former premier and his administration. 

The electorate has spoken loud and clear. It is Abela’s turn now to listen, reflect and adjust his ways unless he wants the yellow card to be transformed into a red card by the next election. 

But the result is also a lesson for the Nationalist Party. The significant collapse the PL suffered was only partially reflected in the PN’s vote. 

Indeed, despite regaining its lost core vote from five years ago, the PN appears destined to be a large party but not large enough to win a general election unless it changes. 

The jubilation of seeing the PL’s advantage slashed should make way to a sober analysis of what needs to be done to convince a wider spectrum of voters to support its cause. 

The European election is a different kettle of fish than a general election. To defeat Labour in the general election the PN cannot simply rely on people deserting the PL but on winning them over. Additionally, the PN must be careful of the Roberta Metsola phenomenon. Many voters may have cast their number one vote for Metsola and not necessarily for the PN, which is a message in its own right. The PN leadership has to analyse and understand what the electorate is trying to tell it with this message. 

On a third level, the impressive performance by independent candidate Arnold Cassola shows that there is a yearning among the electorate for an alternative voice to the two major parties. He showed that with the right resources and right message a third force can pose a serious electoral threat. This is beneficial to democracy. Indeed, pluralism is beneficial to democracy and Cassola’s showing must serve as a stepping stone for change.