Political rallies kick off longish election season

A new political season kicks off in earnest on 20 September with two mass activities by the major political parties • Kurt Sansone tries to guess what Robert Abela and Bernard Grech will say

Prime Minister Robert Abela (left) and Opposition leader Bernard Grech (right)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (left) and Opposition leader Bernard Grech (right)

Bernard Grech will be addressing Nationalist supporters at the Granaries in Floriana on Monday in his first mass event since becoming leader last year.

He will be using the traditional Independence eve gathering to rally for change within the party and the country.

But Grech will have to share his moment of glory on 20 September with that of his political nemesis Robert Abela.

Just a few kilometres away underneath the MFCC tent in Ta’ Qali, the Prime Minister will be addressing a rally for Labour supporters. The mass gathering will close a four-day general conference in which the Labour Party will discuss policy.

Both mass events, although conditioned by COVID-19 protocols, which still limit the amount of people that can gather in one place, will mark the start of a new political season.

For political parties with mass appeal this is more than welcome after more than a year of arid political activity due to the pandemic.

But there is more at stake here than simply reconnecting with the grassroots. The two major parties are now gearing up for the final lap of the current legislature, even though it remains unclear how long the sprint to the election will be.

The latest the general election can be held is September 2022 but the more plausible period will be between March and May next year.

A longish election season is the more likely scenario.

The election tease

The PN has been hammering home its conviction that a general election will be held in November. The party organ Il-Mument has been harping with certainty that Abela will call an election within the next couple of months.

At one point, before Abela had announced that the budget will be held on 11 October, the PN newspaper even floated two possible dates for the election.

Despite a general election by the end of this year looking unlikely, given the timings tied to the approval of the budget and closeness to the Christmas period, Abela has allowed the suspicion to linger.

When asked point blank a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister said he wanted to oversee the implementation of Budget 2022, a sure sign the election will be held next year. But he also refused to outright rule out an election this year and Monday’s rally just adds to the suspicion.

Still, Abela may want to show that a Labour government can go the full term – the 1996 administration only lasted 22 months and the 2013 government was truncated by then prime minister Joseph Muscat who called an election a full year before the five-year term was up.

Whatever date Abela chooses for the election, Monday 20 September 2021 will mark the

start of intense politicking that will test the resilience of the two leaders. The next election will be a first for both and a chance for them to assert their authority on the parties they lead.

Abela and Grech will use Monday’s events to drum up support and lay out their visions for the future. But they will not get into much detail bar a hint or two to make the headlines.

They will tell different stories but both will focus part of their speeches to address internal party issues – Grech will emphasise the need for unity and inclusion after years of infighting, while Abela will emphasise the need for political correctness and humility after the turmoil that ended his predecessor’s career.

The two stories

The Prime Minister will wax lyrical about the upcoming budget, which is the administration’s last, and Grech will underline how the PN is prepared to lead.

There will be no mention of the respective parties’ tax woes – the media companies the PL and PN own have overdue tax bills running into millions.

Abela will emphasise his party’s social credentials by talking about measures to support people with low incomes. Grech will insist the PN can do better.

Both leaders will court business and choose their words carefully when championing the environment so as not to give the impression they will stifle growth in the construction industry.

The biggest and possibly safest environmental cause both will champion is emphasis on public open spaces to be enjoyed by all.

The Prime Minister will posit the PL as the natural home for those who cherish civil liberties. He will give a glimpse of the next frontier the PL will go for in IVF and cannabis use but he will steer clear from touching the abortion issue.

The PN leader will insist his party will not take away any of the civil liberties gained over the past seven years. But Grech will walk a tight rope by harping on inclusion while reaffirming the conservative values enshrined in the party statute.

Abela will remind supporters that his government will remain committed to the mantra of not raising taxes or introducing new ones and recall the government-induced costs of previous Nationalist administrations.

Grech will criticise government for running a massive deficit but will still propose measures that require more government spending, not less.

The PL leader will underscore his government’s achievements in restoring good governance and the rule of law, emphasising the legal changes to the way the police commissioner is selected and members of the judiciary are appointed.

Grech will insist only a new PN government can improve Malta’s international reputation by ensuring good governance prevails. He will repeat the statement that a PN government will get Malta off the greylist in three months and call for prosecutions of people close to power.

The scene will be set for what promises to be the backdrop for the election campaign, where bread and butter issues will prevail.

And yet, both leaders may go off on completely unpredictable tangents with the only certainty being the start of a new, more intense political season.