Abela on 2019 resignations: ‘Disappointment for party, not what we want for country’

Labour leader Robert Abela addresses general conference, hailing Labour as ‘party of reforms’

Robert Abela
Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela made a veiled reference to Labour’s nadir under his disgraced predecessor, in a speech to the Labour Party’s general conference.

He referred to his election in early 2020 upon the resignation of Joseph Muscat, as a period of “considerable difficulties for both the country but also the party.”

“All of us had the disappointment of those episodes our country was passing through, that did not symbolise what we as a party want for our country,” Abela said, without referring specifically to the revelations prompted by the arrest of Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech in connection with the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The arrest prompted the resignations of prime minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri.

The closing speech was preceeded by a line-up of speakers that featured confident and convincing performances from Labour MEPs Alex Agius Saliba and Cyrus Engerer, but also prospective MEP candidate Steve Ellul, as well as an impassioned speech from PL president Ramona Attard, who paid tribute to Labour’s recent legal amendments on termination of pregnanices when the mother’s health is in danger.

Abela said Labour had weathered the COVID pandemic and even after recovering from that crisis, the party was still thirsting for further reforms.

“We cannot sit on our laurels... the March election result is only the starting point for our continued drive to modernise the country,” Abela said. “I want Labour to stay its course as a party of reforms.”

The prime minister said Labour’s success was dependent on continued change, reforms, and an ability to shake up the status quo. “There will always be resistance from those who do not believe in change; but in the last years we changed things which only a few years ago many believed were impossible to change – divorce, which we only recently kept on expanding as a law, LGBTIQ+ rights, decriminalisation for cannabis usage...”

Abela also paid tribute to Labour’s recent legislative reform for doctors to be freed of criminal liability when a termination of pregnancy is required to save a mother’s life or safeguard their health. “We want every mother to have the healthcare she needs, and to protect her life,” Abela said. The Bill amending the law has yet to be passed from the House.

“Our critics claim no medical professional has ever been sent to prison for such life-saving terminations... or that these episodes never really take place. In that case, I expect the full support of everyone in supporting this legal amendment,” Abela said.

Abela said Labour was obliged to be empathetic to people who suffer. “This is our political belief,” he said, cueing in his party’s commitment to kickstart a discussion to legislate euthanasia, and lambasting the PN as the “party against all reforms”.

“This is the difference between us and other parties... on euthanasia, the PN said no. Theirs is the politics of censorship, the politics of the few that want to control everything, who think they are superior, whose measure of the rest of society is theirs only, and who always sweep under the carpet the hurt of those people whose problems can only be solved through major reforms.