From 'invictus' to 'vinci potest'

Robert Abela must decide whether to continue acting as defence lawyer to Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, or keep his distance from them. Abela must stop blaming the bogeyman ‘establishment’ for self-inflicted problems. He must realise that his party is not invincible and that every day it must work to earn people’s trust

If there was a single important message that came out from the European and local council elections results was that the Labour Party is mortal. 

The party that built a formidable electoral machine that saw it win every electoral appointment since 2009 is not unbeatable. Indeed, the PL has been invictus (unconquered) so far but after the European election result, the terminology has changed to vinci potest (can be conquered). 

The significance of the 8 June results is not that the PL lost its supermajority but that for the first time since 2009 its support slipped below 50%. Despite being the largest political force, there is a bigger majority of people who do not support the PL. 

This is an important lesson for the PL leadership. The electorate can never be taken for granted. The arrogance of some ministers who believe they are God’s gift to Malta must be clipped. The electorate has given them a stern punch. It was not a knockout punch but it could well become one unless ministers pull up their socks. 

For starters, the government must ensure that public services are accessible to all those who deserve them. Public administration must be there for all the people not just for Labourites or ministerial lackeys. Nepotism and clientalism just don’t cut it anymore – for every favour done, many others are left in the lurch. 

Bureaucratic nightmares must be solved for everyone and not just for those who happen to know someone with connections. If hospital waiting lists are a problem, the solution is not creating a customer care department that pushes for people to jump the queue. The solution should be one that improves efficiency in the health service. 

In this context, the politician’s duty is to flag problems and push for universal solutions that benefit everyone and not just those who go begging to them. 

The party must also decide how to deal with the Joseph Muscat legacy, which along with its many positive chapters has several dark ones, not least the Vitals hospitals saga which led to criminal charges being filed against Muscat and many other people. This is a scandal that broke the camel’s back. 

Malta gained nothing from the hospitals fiasco and the sheer greed of ex government functionaries who allegedly sought to benefit through commissions at every stage is stomach-churning for honest citizens. To make matters worse, Prime Minister Robert Abela and his justice minister came out all guns blazing against the judiciary and in defence of Muscat. These irked moderate voters, who were unimpressed by the shenanigans that went on outside the courthouse in Valletta when Muscat was arraigned. 

But the Prime Minister must also look at his own behaviour. He cannot continue flip-flopping on issues without justifying his change in position. He must be more open to criticism and reflection before digging his heels on an issue to avoid performing flippant U-turns that only serve to confuse people and his ministers. 

He must decide whether to continue acting as defence lawyer to Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, or keep his distance from them. Abela must stop blaming the bogeyman ‘establishment’ for self-inflicted problems. 

He must realise that his party is not invincible and that every day it must work to earn people’s trust. 

The Prime Minister must display more humbleness in the face of an electorate that has sent a very clear message of discontent. 

For the Nationalist Party, the 8 June outcome is reminiscent of the 1980s film Rocky IV when the seemingly indestructible Soviet boxer Ivan Drago started to bleed, giving Rocky Balboa hope that victory is not impossible to achieve. 

This does not mean that the people who deserted the PL have all shifted to the Nationalist Party. Despite posting its best ever showing in a European election since 2004, the PN must remain grounded with its feet firmly stuck to the floor. It still lost to Labour, even if by 8,000 votes. 

Some voters have taken the plunge and given the PN their number one vote. But the party cannot escape the fact that at least 10% of those who voted for Roberta Metsola went on to give their number 2 preference to non-PN candidates. This could be an indication that they voted for Metsola and not necessarily for the PN. 

A larger chunk of voters deserted Labour and opted for independents and third party candidates. The fact that these voters have moved means they are in listening mode. 

If the PN wants to continue growing it needs to understand this complex electorate and reflect on how it must change to become attractive to a wider audience. 

The PN must develop a discourse that synthesises the divergent views of liberals and conservatives; environment-friendly voters and those more inclined towards a business-friendly climate; a cosmopolitan young audience and a more foreigner-sceptic middle aged cohort. It must develop a discourse of hope and a programme of government that gives people peace of mind and a better quality of life. 

Bernard Grech must ensure the party is not gripped by misplaced euphoria that prevents it from embracing a change process. He must be more open to criticism, embrace it, understand it and work on it. He must set the party’s agenda and ensure it is not derailed by errant Facebook statuses from his MPs and party functionaries. He must realise that although his political adversary is wounded, victory in a general election is anything but assured. 

Only time will tell what lessons our politicians have learnt from the European election result. We can only hope they keep it in mind over the coming years.