Labour Party faces internal meltdown

Emmanuel Cuschieri goes rogue • Rosianne Cutajar left out in the cold • A party administration out of touch • Cabinet members cannot decipher Abela’s thinking 

Labour insiders talk of meltdown: ‘Rudderless, out of hand and fireworks’
Labour insiders talk of meltdown: ‘Rudderless, out of hand and fireworks’

The Labour Party may be cruising in the polls but not all is well at Ħamrun. With Joseph Muscat stealing Robert Abela’s thunder and Emanuel Cuschieri pushing relentlessly for the former leader’s return to politics, the situation has become complicated. It is only made worse with the Prime Minister’s apparent indecision on what should happen with Muscat’s candidature and Rosianne Cutajar’s return. 

Labour propagandist Emanuel Cuschieri has become the wild card in the ongoing striptease Joseph Muscat is performing on a possible candidature for the European election. 

Cuschieri upped the ante last week with a declaration that sowed confusion among the Labour Party’s rank and file, including ministers and MPs. 

But the ongoing Muscat saga is reminiscent of what appears to be a wider malaise within what functionaries have described as a “rudderless party”. 

In a Facebook Live message, Cuschieri claimed businessmen were blocking Muscat’s candidature and threatened to name them unless they stopped “interfering in internal PL issues”. 

Cuschieri has so far provided no proof to substantiate the allegation, which went unchallenged by the PL’s leadership. 

In the same broadcast, Cuschieri also claimed that a joint meeting of the parliamentary group and the executive that had to decide on Rosianne Cutajar’s reintegration was cancelled at the last minute. 

But Cuschieri, who has made it clear that he wants Muscat to be a candidate for the 8 June election, is causing disquiet within the PL. 

Matters getting out of hand 

Several Labour ministers and MPs, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about internal matters, told MaltaToday they were uncomfortable with Cuschieri’s obsession and the protracted Muscat saga. 

A member of Cabinet believes the matter has “got out of hand” with Cuschieri’s “constant rambling” on Joseph Muscat. 

“I find it unfair that he is now roping us in and saying things which aren’t true about the parliamentary group because a meeting was never scheduled for Monday as he claimed,” the Cabinet member said. 

The source added: “Emanuel Cuschieri is like a man who split up with a girlfriend and can’t get over her. Joseph Muscat is the past and we must accept that.” 

The source doubts whether Muscat will contest the European election but in a passing comment reflecting the uncertainty that currently prevails within the party, added: “But you never know.” 

A member of the PL executive rubbished Cuschieri’s claim that a joint meeting of the executive and the parliamentary group was cancelled. 

“On Monday (11 March) there was a meeting of the executive committee that did take place but this had been scheduled several days before as a meeting of the executive alone with no involvement of the parliamentary group,” the source said. 

He was left flabbergasted by Cuschieri’s claim. “Unless Manuel Cuschieri knows something that I do not, I cannot understand why he said that the parliamentary group and executive had to meet,” the source said. 

Fireworks in the administration 

A backbench MP could not understand what Cuschieri meant by his statement that businesspersons were blocking Muscat’s candidature but insisted there are “fireworks” in the higher echelons of the party. 

“There isn’t agreement among the party’s top brass as to whether Joseph Muscat should contest,” the source said. “Joseph Muscat could spell trouble for Labour, but certain MPs are yet to speak out on whether they agree or not with his return.” 

The source was alluding to the growing feeling that Muscat’s foray into the political scene with a rousing speech at MEP Alex Agius Saliba’s campaign launch has dented the stature of Robert Abela. 

A second Cabinet member said they were in the dark on the issue. “The Cabinet has zero knowledge of these manoeuvres and we have no idea what will happen,” the source said. 

This is a feeling shared by others in the Cabinet, who have no visibility on Abela’s thinking. 

Unclear path forward 

When asked back in January about a Muscat candidature the Prime Minister said he will not be the one to stand in his way. 

However, Michelle Muscat had claimed during a campaign event organised by MEP candidate Claudette Abela Baldacchino that her husband had made up his mind and it was now up to the Labour leadership to decide. 

Stealing the limelight: Joseph Muscat addressed Alex Agius Saliba’s campaign rally as if he was a party leader in waiting
Stealing the limelight: Joseph Muscat addressed Alex Agius Saliba’s campaign rally as if he was a party leader in waiting

A third Cabinet member told MaltaToday the situation was complicated because Labour supporters still love Joseph Muscat. 

“The excitement for his return is understandable but the Cabinet has no say in the decision and we are in the dark over what will happen,” the source said. 

But the source refrained from drawing any conclusions on the impact a Muscat return could have on Abela’s stature. 

“A Joseph Muscat candidature would almost guarantee a Labour victory but it is still early to pass judgement because we have to see whether he contests at all,” the source said. 

Meanwhile, when addressing the enthusiastic crowd at Agius Saliba’s launch event, Muscat gave no hint as to what his intentions are. The only reference was when he told people that the most important thing was not what he was going to do, with reference to the 8 June election, but what they will do. It was a call for Labour voters to go out and vote. 

People close to the former Labour leader, who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity believe he will not contest the European election but nonetheless insist Muscat may still harbour the ambition to obtain a record number of votes and in the process, beat the Nationalist Party’s Roberta Metsola. 

Second thoughts on Rosianne Cutajar’s return 

It remains unclear what the current state of play is and several people in the PL who spoke to MaltaToday are unsure what the party leader is thinking. 

There is uncertainty all around with some even pointing a finger at the manner by which the Prime Minister has left Rosianne Cutajar hanging on a thread. Cutajar was forced to leave the party and become an independent MP after details of WhatsApp exchanges she had with murder suspect Yorgen Fenech were published last year. 

Better times: The Prime Minister opened his hands to a possible return for Rosianne Cutajar to the Labour parliamentary group but two months down the line no formal decision has yet been taken
Better times: The Prime Minister opened his hands to a possible return for Rosianne Cutajar to the Labour parliamentary group but two months down the line no formal decision has yet been taken

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister opened the door for Cutajar’s return to the party, insisting she had paid the price for her misdemeanours. However, two months down the line it appears Abela is having second thoughts. 

With Emanuel Cuschieri constantly singing the praises for Muscat and building expectations among Labour supporters; with Muscat adopting the language and mannerisms of a leader when addressing a candidate’s rally; with Abela failing to publicly address the Muscat conundrum and delaying Rosianne Cutajar’s comeback; with the party’s deputy leaders and senior administration in apparent hibernation, Labour functionaries and supporters have been left in the lurch on what will happen. 

A veteran foot soldier, who has militated in the PL for decades told MaltaToday that people like him have also been left in the dark on key decisions that could impact the party. 

“Nobody knows what Emanuel Cuschieri is talking about and whether Joseph Muscat is going to be a candidate or not but most of all, many in the rank and file are hurt by the decision to leave Rosianne Cutajar out in the cold,” the source said. “The PL will do badly in Qormi and the Prime Minister’s flip-flopping on the issue is only making things worse.” 

He insisted Cutajar is still a well-loved politician in her hometown and voters will punish the party in local elections next June. 

The source added that the party’s administration is in a slumber and disconnected from the people on the ground. “Many like me feel like strangers at il-kwartieri,” he said. 

Matthew Vella contributed to this report.