Robert Abela is Malta's next prime minister in landslide victory

OFFICIAL RESULT |  Robert Abela 57.9%, Chris Fearne 42.1% • Abela gets 2,544 more votes than Fearne • Turnout is 92.5%

Labour leader Robert Abela
Labour leader Robert Abela
02:01 This blog will end here. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
01:53 Official result: Abela 57.9%, Fearne 42.1% Kurt Sansone
01:40 Abela takes over the party, almost 12 years after his father George Abela lost the leadership race to Joseph Muscat in 2008. Kurt Sansone
01:38 "Robert Abela has not won, Chris Fearne has not lost. The Labour Party has won... let us work together for unity," Abela says, as he is accompanied by his wife, Lydia Abela. Kurt Sansone
01:38 Abela thanks rival Chris Fearne and looks forward to work with him. Kurt Sansone
01:37 Robert Abela is addressing supporters for the first time as Labour leader Kurt Sansone
01:34 With 80% of boxes counted: Abela 57%, Fearne 43% Kurt Sansone
01:31 The vote counting process is still going on but most candidate agents behind the Perspex have now abandoned their posts with the result being what it is. Kurt Sansone
01:28 The Labour MP has made an impressive comeback. Having started the race as the underdog, Abela managed to close the gap with a low-key campaign targeted at the party’s grassroots. Kurt Sansone
01:19 Abela is expected at Labour HQ, anytime now to give a short address, his first as Labour leader. Kurt Sansone
01:11 Abela’s supporters are cheering and celebrating outside Labour HQ. Kurt Sansone
01:09 With 59% of boxes counted: Abela 58%, Fearne 42% Kurt Sansone
00:55 PL deputy leader Chris Cardona calls out victory for Robert Abela. Kurt Sansone
00:52 Robert Abela appears to be heading for a landslide victory to become Malta’s next prime minister. Kurt Sansone
00:47 With 15 boxes out of 44 counted: Abela 60.8%, Fearne 39.2% Kurt Sansone
00:44 With a quarter of boxes counted Abela has 59.9% and Fearne 40.1% of the vote. Kurt Sansone
00:38 Victorious chants calling out Robert Abela's name can be heard outside the counting hall. Kurt Sansone
00:35 The current standings read: Abela 65.3%, Fearne 34.7%. Kurt Sansone
00:35 Robert Abela has won all boxes concluded so far Kurt Sansone
00:31 All indications so far are pointing to a comfortable win for Robert Abela but there are 44 boxes to be counted and the process is in its early stages. Kurt Sansone
00:30 The third box to be concluded goes Abela's way with 409 votes against Fearne's 265. Kurt Sansone
00:28 Box 5, the second to close, goes to Abela with 330 votes against Fearne's 165. Kurt Sansone
00:27 Abela's team cheers. Kurt Sansone
00:27 First box counted goes to Robert Abela with 254 votes against Chris Fearne’s 126. Kurt Sansone
00:12 Dubious votes which agents have pointed out during the sorting process are being checked by the electoral commission. Kurt Sansone
00:12 First celebratory gesture comes from behind the perspex of the second table where Robert Abela’s agents have raised victorious fists. However, this would be the result of just one box and not necessarily indicative of the outcome. Kurt Sansone
00:07 There is tension in the room, a taut atmosphere where no agent so far seems to be celebrating early or making gestures. No thumping on the perspex either. Sorting is a quiet and contained affair. Kurt Sansone
00:02 Our reporter on the ground, David Hudson, tells us that one could hear a pin drop inside the counting hall. Kurt Sansone
00:02 Each ballot sheet features a photograph of each candidate. Voters were tasked to put an X under the photo of their preferred candidate. Kurt Sansone
00:00 What will happen: one box will be sorted and sorters will move to the next box when the first is finalised. The result for each box will be given in real time. Kurt Sansone
23:58 Sorting has officially started. Kurt Sansone
23:58 Some agents are slumped on the floor, clearly tired after a long day. Others are spending long minutes on their phone. Kurt Sansone
23:49 Sorting has not yet started because of a discrepancy of two votes in the 2nd and 13th districts. Officials are re-counting the ballots to reconcile the figures. Kurt Sansone
23:34 The two candidates are Chris Fearne, a surgeon and deputy prime minister, and Robert Abela, a lawyer and Labour MP. Kurt Sansone
23:33 We are waiting for the vote sorting to start. At this stage, ballots will be turned face up and placed into the candidate pigeon holes according to voter preference. Kurt Sansone
23:32 QUICK REMINDER: A MaltaToday survey among Labour Party members shows that up to Friday Robert Abela was scoring 51.5% and Chris Fearne 48.5% but results are within the margin of error. Abela’s support ranged between 46.4% and 56.6%, while Fearne’s ranged between 43.4% and 53.6%. Kurt Sansone
23:29 Electoral officials are making the last checks to reconcile ballots cast with official documentation before the vote sorting process starts. Kurt Sansone
23:08 No vote sorting has started yet but it’s all smiles in the Robert Abela camp, with agents appearing confident that he may have made it. Kurt Sansone
23:05 Labour elections veteran Louis Gatt says the sorting process will happen box per box and the result will be released in real time as it comes in. Kurt Sansone
23:00 Vote sorting when ballots are turned face up and put in the respective candidate boxes is expected to start shortly. Kurt Sansone
22:59 A total of 16,216 people from 17,531 eligible voters cast their vote. Kurt Sansone
22:58 The lowest turnout was in the 12th district (Naxxar) at 89%. Kurt Sansone
22:58 The overall turnout was 92.5%. The highest voter turnout was in the 11th district (Mosta) at 96%, followed by the 2nd District (Bormla), the 10th (Sliema) and the 13th (Gozo), each at 94%. Kurt Sansone
22:52 David Hudson tells us that neither Robert Abela nor Chris Fearne are likely to make an appearance at Labour HQ this evening. The first speech of the leader-elect will be tomorrow at 4pm at the Kordin sports pavilion. Kurt Sansone
22:50 There are 30 accredited newsrooms covering the event, including international networks, Al Jazeera, Reuters, BBC and RAI. Kurt Sansone
22:49 A survey released by MaltaToday this evening after polls closed showed that until Friday, Robert Abela enjoyed a slight lead over Chris Fearne. However, the results are well within the margin of error. Kurt Sansone
22:47 Our reporter at Labour HQ, David Hudson, tells us that there is an air of conviviality inside the building where votes will be counted. Agents from opposing camps are taking photos with one another and being friendly. Kurt Sansone
22:45 We welcome you for the final lap of a process that started five weeks ago when Joseph Muscat announced that he would resign. Kurt Sansone
22:43 Good evening. Kurt Sansone

Robert Abela is Malta's next prime minister in a landslide victory over Chris Fearne.

The official result when all votes have been counted show that Abela secured 57.9% of the vote, against Fearne's 42.1%.

Labour deputy leader Chris Cardona called it for Abela in a Facebook post, halfway through the counting process when it was clear that Abela's lead was unassailable. Abela ended up with 2,544 more votes than Fearne.

Abela will deliver his first speech as Labour leader on Sunday at the close of the party congress that will be held at Kordin sports pavillion at 4pm.

He is expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Monday.

Earlier

Ballot boxes from the 13 districts have been coming in to the Labour Party headquarters
Ballot boxes from the 13 districts have been coming in to the Labour Party headquarters

Labour Party members voted on Saturday to elect Joseph Muscat's successor. Polls closed at 8pm. 58.3% of paid-up members had voted by 2pm. The final voting turnout showed that 92.5% of the 17,500 members eligible to vote cast their ballot. This amounted to around 16,200 of paid members.

Chris Fearne casting his vote at the Fgura party club
Chris Fearne casting his vote at the Fgura party club
Robert Abela cast his vote at the Qormi party club at 9.20am
Robert Abela cast his vote at the Qormi party club at 9.20am

Labour CEO Randolph Debattista said on ONE TV that this turnout was higher than the one for the Nationalist Party contest that saw PN members electing Adrian Delia as PN leader. This despite the Labour leadership election having more rigid rules as to who is eligible to vote, such as requiring at least a five-year membership to the PN's two. 

There is a convivial atmosphere inside the Labour Party headquarters as agents for both candidates are taking photographs with one another and contributing to a mood of camraderie. 

Polling stations at 13 PL clubs - one in each electoral district - opened at 8am. Vote counting is taking place at PL headquarters in Hamrun after all ballot boxes arrive. The results are expected later tonight, possibly in the early hours of Sunday.

Around 30 media houses, including Reuters, BBC, and Al Jazeera have been granted access to cover the event.

Counting agents for both candidates have taken their place behind the perspex as the ballot boxes started coming in. 

Joseph Muscat voted in Naxxar at 10am, where he was greeted by well-wishers outside the party club. Deputy prime minister Chris Fearne voted in Fgura. Labour MP Robert Abela voted at the Qormi party club at 9.20 am. That district also covers Siggiewi and Luqa.

Labour members out in the pelting rain to vote for Muscat’s successor
Lydia Abela, PL executive secretary and wife of Robert Abela, meets voters outside the Fgura club
Lydia Abela, PL executive secretary and wife of Robert Abela, meets voters outside the Fgura club

READ ALSO: MaltaToday survey | Very tight race sees Robert Abela edge ahead

Out at the hustings

Robert Abela and Chris Fearne
Robert Abela and Chris Fearne

We spoke to some of the voters outside the Teatro Rialto in Bormla and the Labour Centre in Fgura, where supporters from both camps stood outside after they submitted their vote. 

Most voters we spoke to said that they did not have any particular preference between Robert Abela and Chris Fearne, adding that whoever is elected will hopefully retain the big majority wins that Muscat had guaranteed. 

This despite some palpable tension outside the Rialto, where Abela's supporters and Fearne's supporters stood on opposite sides of the voting station. 

Abela's wife Lydia, along with her sister Alison Zerafa Civelli, Bormla Mayor, were seen entering the Rialto at around 3pm to submit their vote. Abela was greeted by applause from a majority of the eligible voters outside the building. 

Lydia Abela was later seen at the Fgura Labour club, though she wasn't received with the earlier enthusiasm. Fgura is the voting station for the 4th district, including Paola, a Chris Fearne hotbed. 

"The important thing is that whoever gets elected will continue to give a continuous trashing to the Nationalist Party," one Labour member said.

Another in Bormla said that if whoever is elected followed Muscat's footsteps, "not only would he guarantee a majority but an even bigger one." 

Some claimed to have been uncertain till the very end as to who to vote for, adding that both Fearne and Abela were leader material.

Muscat resignation

The election was made necessary after Muscat announced that he would be stepping down in December in the aftermath of damning court testimony that implicated his former chief of staff Keith Schembri in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder.

Muscat admitted the exit was not what he hoped for amid mounting protests demanding his immediate resignation. He claimed that he “paid the highest price” in leaving as he did.

Muscat’s landslide, back-to-back, electoral triumphs in the midst of great economic success contrasted heavily with a Prime Minister who at the end of 2019 was met with a barrage of eggs, vegetables, and sonorous boos every time he exited parliament. The murder of Caruana Galizia cast an indelible stain on Muscat and his administration.

READ ALSO: Labour’s winning streak: Joseph Muscat’s 10 election victories

This paved the way for a two-way contest featuring Fearne and Abela who both evinced a strong and competitive desire to lead during their separate campaigns.

The new leader will not only captain the Labour Party but will also become prime minister and lead Malta’s thirteenth legislature.

Early voting took place last Wednesday.

Who is the favourite to win?

Chris Fearne’s campaign had its controversial moments. Fearne raised eyebrows when he mocked the Nationalist Party at a time when national unity and sobriety were expected.

“In 2008, I vowed and — today, I’ll do the same with you as my witnesses — that the Nationalists will not govern for as long as I live. When I die, they could write on my grave that the PN were never elected. Instead of RIP, they could write RIPN,” he had said during a political event in Paola.

A few days later, his opponent, Robert Abela, filed a vote tampering complaint. He claimed that unauthorised persons had added people to the list of eligible voters. The PL’s electoral commission ruled out the possibility of tampering after investigating Abela's complaint.

Despite the false steps and the non-optimal delivery, Fearne started the campaign way ahead of his rival. However, a MaltaToday survey held among PL members on 2 and 3 January, put Fearne’s support at 55.4% against Abela’s 44.6%.

Abela gained ground throughout the campaign and cut the gap further. It is understood that Abela's popularity continued to grow after the Xarabank interview last week.

Who is Chris Fearne?

Fearne has been active within the PL since his youth but he acquired political visibility when Muscat became Labour leader in 2008. At the time, Fearne addressed a protest meeting against the rising cost of living.

From then on, Fearne has been on the rise as a politician, winning his first election in 2013 and getting elected into parliament. Appointed first as a parliamentary secretary for health in 2014, the Panama Papers scandal which saw Konrad Mizzi’s health and energy portfolio taken away, saw Fearne take his place as health minister.

In a race for deputy leader for parliamentary affairs where he was the dark horse, Fearne beat Edward Scicluna and Helena Dalli for the role.

His swift scaling of the political ladder in the last few years under Muscat’s administration saw Fearne take some strong decisions, especially when he asked the Auditor General to probe the multi-million hospitals concession deal with Vitals Global Healthcare brokered by Mizzi, who he slowly distanced himself from.

Fearne has promised for justice to be done without fear or favour and ruled out a return to cabinet for Mizzi. His campaign has been characterised by a call for rectitude and a no-nonsense approach. He has banked on his experience in government, roping in the support of Cabinet members.

Who is Robert Abela?

Robert Abela is, comparatively, a newcomer: his political foray can be traced back to a PL meeting before the 2013 general election, delivering a hard-hitting speech against then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

This was a time when Gonzi had appointed Abela’s father, George Abela, as president. Gonzi’s decision was unprecedented at the time when he appointed a president from the opposing political camp.

Abela’s veritable political career took off in 2017 when he accepted to contest the general election. While he was elected, he refused an offer to join the cabinet as a parliamentary secretary, choosing instead to pursue his legal career, which included a retainer with the Planning Authority.

Besides this, Abela was also appointed as an advisor to Muscat with a right to attend cabinet meetings, while his name often cropped up as Muscat’s possible successor.

His campaign has promised a return to Labour’s ideological roots. Abela has ruled out a Cabinet post for Konrad Mizzi and pledged continuity while making the necessary changes to strengthen good governance. His was a simple, people's campaign that tugged at the heartstrings of the party hard core.

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