How Labour lost its supermajority: five main take-aways

Nobody doubted that Labour was headed for victory, but any margin of victory below 20,000 is a bad result for Robert Abela’s party. James Debono on the reasons why Labour lost its supermajority

Prime Minister Robert Abela at the Naxxar counting hall
Prime Minister Robert Abela at the Naxxar counting hall

1. Instead of boosting Labour’s turn-out, Joseph Muscat may have turned off middle-of-the-road voters and energised the PN-Metsola vote

Faced by the damning Vitals PPP inquiry, Labour cynically played the Muscat card to energise its base.

Joseph Muscat was invited on the party media and was a regular guest on various roadshows for Labour’s main candidates. Labour’s optics were damaged by a show of force from Muscat supporters outside the law courts the day of his arraignment.

The European election result suggests that the opposite happened. Not only has it not galvanised the Labour vote but it may have backfired among floaters who had migrated to Labour in 2013.

Joseph Muscat supporters gathered outside the law courts in a show of support for the former Labour leader (Photo: Kurt Sansone/MaltaToday)
Joseph Muscat supporters gathered outside the law courts in a show of support for the former Labour leader (Photo: Kurt Sansone/MaltaToday)

Moreover, Muscat’s legacy may have rendered Labour toxic among young and tertiary-educated voters, possibly pushing away some who were originally intent on not voting, to instead vote Metsola to punish Labour. Crucially following the publication of the Vitals inquiry by MaltaToday, people could see that this was not just a rehash of previous allegations, but a damning indictment on the way the country was run.

2. Labour has lost the unity advantage

Simmering tensions between Muscat and Abela were hidden behind a façade of support and unity.

But voters could see through the façade, noting Muscat’s devious strategy to use his party as a shield to save his own skin by running his own parallel campaign, dispensing benediction to candidates who were defending him.

This contributed to the impression that Labour has two leaders. Ironically Muscat, who before 2013 had changed his party’s optics to make it more palatable to M.O.R. voters, this time around contributed to a retrenchment, with Labour losing its allure among more educated voters.

3. Labour had a poor line-up of candidates

Labour, who in the past presented candidates like Louis Grech and Edward Scicluna to appeal to the middle ground, and heavyweights with gravitas like Alfred Sant, presented a line-up that lacked diversity and appeal to different segments of Maltese society.

The absence of women with a realistic chance of election was also notable. In contrast the PN had Roberta Metsola whose appeal is not restricted to party hawks. Like Muscat before 2013, Metsola has already proven herself with tribalists, and thus could focus on the middle-ground.

4. Labour tried too hard to win big. The power of incumbency to prop up its supermajority was seen as an act of desperation

Labour had a vast arsenal of targeted budget measures timed to coincide with mid-term elections and aimed at creating a feel-good factor in the country. Surely the party’s anti-austerity message remains widely popular and people like receiving ex gratia cheques, but they may have got used to these cash injections and some may resent the use of these benefits as carrots just days before elections.

5. The PN was not a threat in this election

Voters in this election could punish Labour without any fear of consequences. In fact despite the PL’s claims to the contrary, after so many superlative Labour victories, it was the PN who was seen as the underdog.

For Labour this Pyrrhic victory could be a sign for its own voters to fear a PN resurgence. If the PN builds on this momentum, it may well start to attract the talent – and cash – it needs to transform itself in a more viable option. Still, to get there the PN needs a leader who is seen as an alternative Prime Minister. If the PN manages to win the third seat, Grech has secured his leadership – so far.

Bernard Grech
Bernard Grech

But Bernard Grech has been lacking in the qualities required for him to be trusted as a prime minister. He may still grow in his role but people will be asking him more questions on what he will do if he is elected in power.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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