Muscat calls in ministers jockeying for his job

On returning from his holiday the Prime Minister was irritated to find ministers in an overdrive of self-promotion

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has told ministers vying for his job to tone down their campaigning
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has told ministers vying for his job to tone down their campaigning

Joseph Muscat has told ministers vying for his job, and told them in no uncertain words, that they need to tone down their leadership campaigning, MaltaToday has learnt.

Sources close to the government told MaltaToday that Muscat spoke to his deputy Chris Fearne, Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg, and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi after they scaled up their personal campaigns over the summer months.

“The Prime Minister returned from his summer holiday to find the ministers in an overdrive of self-promotion. This irked Joseph Muscat and he told them to rein in their campaigns,” the sources said.

Muscat had been urged by his close aides to nip the campaigning in the bud because it was creating anxiety with the party delegates who were being hounded by the candidates.

The Prime Minister’s ‘message’ led to the immediate closure last week of two Facebook groups that served as campaign platforms for Borg and Mizzi.

The Facebook groups – Getting Things Done and the Konrad Effect, extoling Borg’s and Mizzi’s work respectively – appeared to have upped the ante as rumours swirled that Muscat would use the Budget to announce his departure.

Apart from numerous media appearances, Chris Fearne on the other hand reportedly commissioned front cover appearances on the Sunday Circle Magazine distributed with The Sunday Times of Malta, First which is distributed with The Independent and The Malta Business Review. The magazines carried a lifestyle interview which also included Fearne posing with all his family next to his swimming pool.

A source within the Labour Party told MaltaToday that only this week, Muscat made it clear during a meeting of the executive that he was not going anywhere, anytime soon.

“Joseph [Muscat] told members of the executive they still had a lot to do together, making it clear that he was not going anywhere yet… it was a clear message to those vying to take his place,” the source said.

Talking in the Labour national executive this week, Muscat made specific reference to a speculative article that appeared in The Times about an unsourced survey on the popularity of the contenders, saying he had “no intention of leaving now or after the budget.”

His declaration was met with a rousing applause – yet of all the contenders, only Chris Fearne was present for the meeting.

Over the past few weeks, speculation has been rife within the PL that the Prime Minister may use the Budget as a platform to announce his departure. The Budget is scheduled for 14 October.

Muscat has said before that he will not be contesting another general election but has refrained from talking about an exit timeline, even with people close to him.

But sources said the Prime Minister has moved to quash those rumours. “Joseph Muscat does not want to distract attention from the Budget because of an impending leadership race and the incessant campaigning by three of his ministers has created some friction among delegates that has not been seen for a long while in the PL.”

It is an open secret that Fearne, Borg and Mizzi will be vying for the party leadership when Muscat steps down.

The three ministers have been using their ministerial platforms to reach out to party delegates and members.

Other contenders include Labour MEP Miriam Dalli and MP Robert Abela, who have kept a low profile. But party sources also talk of a dark horse candidate that may simply appear at the eleventh hour.

The next Labour leader will be chosen by the party’s members; however, it will be the more restricted group of delegates, who will first whittle down the crop to two contenders.