Can this man be our next Prime Minister?

When, five years ago, the Labour Party faced another electoral defeat, leadership change was not up for question.

To be fair, Alfred Sant lost the election by a whisker. But in elections, you either win or lose.

The Labour delegates decided to choose a young leader. At 34, Joseph Muscat was elected over George Abela, a charismatic politician but one who failed to siphon enough support to win the contest.

Other Labour heavyweights who also threw their hat into the ring included Evarist Bartolo: a former education minister who also had hands-on experience in government (a claim that most young Labour politicians cannot really make today). 

In a sense, the Labour Party delegates opted for youth over experience, and one can more or less understand their concern at the time. Labour in 2008 was reeling from its fifth electoral defeat since 1981. Clearly, the time had come for a radical rethink, and if necessary a radical reform of the entire party. And it was largely on this premise that Joseph Muscat was preferred over his older competitors.

To say that Muscat has not since delivered on this promise of change would be wrong. From the very start, he surrounded himself with his most trusted friends and collaborators. A closer look at his entourage will uncover an uncanny resemblance to his schoolmates at St Aloysius College. They are all young, business-oriented and well educated men and women with a thirst to elect Muscat into government.

Indeed many among the party faithful have questioned the wisdom of keeping unelected officials so close to his power base.

But Muscat has followed in the footsteps of all modern political leaders. He is allowing the technocrats to run the show.

In a rather short period of time, Muscat addressed the issue the party's image. In fact, he seems to have made the party's image his primary concern. He went to great lengths to do away with all the outdated anthems, flags and all the trappings of aesthetic dilettantism that had previously been the hallmark of past Labour campaigns. Even the Labour party's iconic torch found itself jettisoned after a nationwide competition.

Has he done enough to clean his party's image, in this sense? Probably not, but few could deny that change at this level was, and remains, a priority. 

More importantly, Muscat moved his political and ideological base away from the loony left and pitched tent on the far safer middle ground: only venturing out of the political centre to embrace liberal issues such as divorce and same sex 'marriage'.

Politically, Muscat based many of his campaigns on what the public surveys were saying, and indeed many of his campaign drives have been linked to trends as they emerge from the surveys... with his conservative views on migration perhaps confirming this habit.

Throughout the last five years, the government benches have provided Muscat with ample opportunity to flog the government and the Prime Minister.

Yet, on too many occasions he has allowed the Nationalist backbenchers to take centre stage and dictate his own political strategy.

In that respect, the criticism levelled at Muscat that he was simply waiting in the shadows was rather justified. He rode over discontent but failed to set the political agenda. He has now promised to address this perception in his political manifesto. One can only wait and see.

However, the repeated failure of the Gonzi administration to address several issues, and its propensity to mismanaging crisis situations, have elevated Muscat's political stature at Gonzi's expense.

In his delivery, Muscat comes across as moderate, composed, calm and very middle-of-the-road.

His emphasis on the middle class was clearly addressing the disgruntled Nationalist voter.

Media savvy as always, Muscat would steer away from getting lost in controversy but he did so by controlling the very appearance of his lieutenants.

Throughout the year, he has been lambasted for failing to come up with the beef and many of his critics have accused him of being 'more of the same'.

Yet polls reveal that many voters are willing to give him a try.

What Labour wishes to propose or intends to propose and eventually implement will presumably make itself known in the very next days.

What needs to be done, however, is another matter.

Muscat's habit of giving the impression that he can implement everyone's wishes is also not very helpful.

If Muscat truly wants to change this country for the better, a simple change of faces will not suffice... though it will no doubt be welcomed by many who have grown tired of the same personalities who have dominated our life for the past 25 years.

Apart from steering the country ahead, there is little doubt in our mind that the country is in need of serious reform.

A reformist party, rather than a progressive party, is what this country really needs.

What is needed is the courage to reform the judiciary, the electoral system, to encourage a level playing field for the business community, to do away with mediocrity and embrace meritocracy, to upgrade our health and educational services and to implement a visionary energy and environmental policy and more specifically, to making Malta more competitive. 

A tall order indeed - more importantly when it comes to investing in sustainable economic growth for the benefit of future generations.

This small country may have its problems, but it has also been a relative success story. Much of our success can be attributed to the long list of politicians who have had the vision and capability of translating their words into deeds. 

If Muscat does get elected, he will be one of the youngest prime ministers and one with a very tall order. 

Ruling is very different from leading an Opposition party through a campaign... as Muscat may well discover very soon.

If he fails to get elected he would have condemned the Labour Party to a future of great uncertainty and awarded the Nationalist administration with another five years.

It would mean that the electorate prefers familiar faces and the status quo. Polls have another story to tell, but anything could happen.

Monday, 7 January marks the beginning of the electoral campaign... during which we commit ourselves to provide a fair and objective reportage and analysis of the political campaigning of all the political parties.

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Joseph Muscat is a calm and composed "revolutionary", preaching stability; innovative social reform, financial certainty, social justice, accountability, adequate prioritisation, working together for Malta and national unity. A true patriot.