[WATCH] Regrets, he’s had a few… Muscat bows out basking in the glory of his supporters

His last speech as prime minister: Labour leader Joseph Muscat says the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination was his greatest regret

I will be back... bencher: Joseph Muscat delivers his final speech to Labour supporters
I will be back... bencher: Joseph Muscat delivers his final speech to Labour supporters

Regrets, he’s had a few. But then again, not more than his achievements.

Joseph Muscat, the Labour Party leader who took the helm of a broken party in 2008 to take it to the most successful electoral machine in Maltese history, signed off on Friday evening, delivering his last speech as prime minister to a packed hall of Labour supporters in Paola.

Emotions ran high. His own MPs could be seen bawling as he made his exit, visible among them Edward Zammit Lewis, Justyne Caruana, and the MEP Alex Agius Saliba.

With choreographed camerawork beaming a TV spectacular of the evening’s proceedings, Muscat made his typically deft oration the highlight of the evening, vacillating between self-congratulatory reflection and a few pauses on his regrets - the Caruana Galizia assassination chief among them, “for which I have paid the highest political prices” he said, repeatedly. No mention was made of his former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, the man now allegedly implicated in an assassination for which his friend, Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech, stands accused of.

Bring on the waterworks: Edward Zammit Lewis embraces his friend after his farewell speech
Bring on the waterworks: Edward Zammit Lewis embraces his friend after his farewell speech

He bowed out under a dark cloud - he seemed aware of that - yet told well-wishers history was theirs to write, listing the achievements of his six-year premiership in the field of civil liberties, the economy, and social welfare. 

“Throughout this journey, Labour changed the political landscape of the country,” Muscat said, setting the tone to a speech that crowned his many achievements at the helm of the Labour Party despite it being overshadowed by the Panama Papers scandal and the 17 Black link that brought a tragic aftermath.

But the awareness of his own greatness - he won 10 elections in all, two general elections by vote majorities greater than 36,000 votes, unprecedented in history - was evident in the timbre of his tone. He could only end his speech with the same words with which he started his first speech to Labour delegates that first night he won the election as Labour leader in 2008: “I love you”.

“Love has been central to our effort, and will remain the focus of our work, the love towards the country and her people,” Muscat said. 

“Back in 2008 you trusted a 34-year-old with the future of your party, but little did we know what we had yet to achieve.”

Muscat made civil liberties the centrepiece of the successes he paid tribute to. “That gay couple who can now marry, that family who wanted a child but could never have before the IVF law, that is what strengthened my resolve,” he said.

He stopped to pause on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, saying the assassination had brought big sorrow to him. “You may I ask if I have any disappointments, I have, and that is the Caruana Galizia murder, and I am truly sorry for what happened. Despite my grief, no one can truly understand the pain felt by her family,” Muscat said. 

Despite his disappointment, Muscat said that he was proud to have achieved a breakthrough in the case.  “I paid a political price, and unlike others who talked much and solved nothing, we have achieved breakthroughs,” he said, a reference to previous political murders that have remained unsolved since the 1980s.

Muscat turned his political struggles in a battle between ‘love and hate’, saying he regretted having been unable to eliminate the curse of personal attacks in politics, propping up his family as an example of the victimisation inside Maltese politics. “I don’t call them politicians, I call them cruel people,” he said. 

The environment was also a sector where Muscat said he felt he should have done better. “The kids of today, the ones we gave the vote to at 16, have the environment at heart and they speak about it in a way we cannot understood. We must stay ahead of that,” he said.

Muscat expressed full confidence in candidates Chris Fearne and Robert Abela, stating that the party still has a lot of success to achieve under their leadership. 

“With Robert and Chris we will remain winners,” Muscat said.

Muscat thanked his visibly emotional wife and children, stating that they were his backbone in the hard times. He also thanked his parents, and stated that now that he has backed down from PM, hopes to see them live a more serene lifestyle. 

Muscat said that throughout his career, he had believed in Labour’s unity and potential, as the basis to its success. “What bothered our rivals was not the economic success we achieved but the unity we have and will continue to enjoy,” he said, saying the party had turned into an “election winning machine”. 

Muscat also looked back at his time in opposition, stating that the PL was a hard but optimistic opposition, which tried to provide solutions rather than set hurdles.  “We were a credible opposition, and we tried our best to provide positive solutions,” Muscat said. 

“We have to continue dreaming, because when the PL created solutions, the country won.”