Robert Abela wants to be Malta’s next prime minister – but he shuns the press

Labour MP’s ground game is with party members not in the press, and party station One TV is only scheduling an in-house debate between Fearne and Abela

Robert Abela launching his leadership campaign
Robert Abela launching his leadership campaign

Malta’s deputy prime minister Chris Fearne has been building himself up on the ground and in the nation’s Sunday glossy magazines for the past year.

But it is Labour MP Robert Abela, son of President emeritus George Abela and erstwhile consultant to outgoing PM Joseph Muscat, who surprises the most: he has ignored press requests for interviews and now launched his leadership campaign without inviting the press, making his campaign the more ‘strategic’ of the two.

Abela on Wednesday evening officially launched his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party, broadcasting the launch on his Facebook page where he is seen with a small group of supporters seated behind him. 

His sister-in-law, Bormla mayor Alison Zerafa Civelli, and Haz-Zebbug mayor Malcolm Paul Galea, were among the main names backing his bid. Zerafa Civelli is Abela’s sister-in-law. Abela’s wife Lydia Abela is secretary of the Labour Party executive.

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This will be the first time that the PL leader will be chosen by the party members and not just delegates. Whoever wins the race will automatically become Malta’s next prime minister.

In a recorded speech, Abela launched his campaign titled ‘Forward Together’ (Flimkien ‘Il Quddiem). He said the next PM must look to build on the economic success brought about by this government. “Without a growing economy our challenges will be harder,” he said. “Unity remains the core of our success.”

Abela said the next PM must look to restore tranquility and serenity in the country. “We can do this not by drastic measures, but delicate and fine decisions which build on the positives and improve the negatives,” he said.

Robert Abela said he would be proposing that in the span of five years, medicines bought by pensioners would be given for free, with the measure costing €40 million.

He also said that it is a reality that the influx of foreign workers, despite their contribution to the country’s current economic success, are holding back wages. “While we have to appreciate the foreign workers’ contribution to our economic success, we cannot let it hinder us from improving our quality of life,” he said.

Abela said that he would be proposing that employers would not be given the permit to import foreign workers if all their employees are not paid their deserved wage. They would also not be granted the permit if they do not pay the foreign workers through a valid bank account. “An employer who is found guilty of breaking work conditions or employing workers without a valid work permit, would also be barred from employing foreign workers,” Abela said.

He also said that it would not be tolerating that foreign workers be paid lower than their Maltese counterparts. “Contract workers should not be paid differently from company workers if they are carrying out the same work,” he said.

Abela has not accepted interviews from independent media houses, unlike health minister Chris Fearne, who has been gunning for the leadership post for over a year.

Adding to the lack of media scrutiny is the fact that One TV, the Labour Party station, will only be featuring one debate between the two candidates at the beginning of January.

The decision was taken at party level not to allow the two candidates face each other off in non-party broadcasts.

Fearne has already made a few pledges as part of his leadership campaign, among them committing a future Labour government with him as PM to scrap the Individual Investor Programme and replace it with a new scheme negotiated with Brussels which “does not harm Malta’s image abroad”.