[WATCH] Robert Abela’s first steps please the TV pundits: here’s what they said

On Xtra: Bernard Grech, George Vital Zammit, Robert Musumeci, and Manuel Micallef

From left: George Vital Zammit, Robert Musumeci, Bernard Grech, and Manuel Micallef
From left: George Vital Zammit, Robert Musumeci, Bernard Grech, and Manuel Micallef

Malta’s newly appointed Robert Abela, elected by the Labour Party in an election prompted by Joseph Muscat’s resignation in December 2019, has sent out the first positive signals of his premiership, with a youthful Cabinet and by offering a hand of friendship to opposition and civil society activities.

Even Abela’s leadership campaign, a grassroots reach-out that often shunned appearances with stakeholders or newspaper interviews, was praised for having understood the mood of Labour voters and how to achieve the route to the Labour leadership and the country’s premiership.

“I think Robert Abela is his own man… I think he was smart in his campaign. Abela did not go to the Chamber of Commerce meeting because he was busy campaigning in Gozo and meeting people there,” the public policy expert George Vital Zammit said of Abela’s grassroots campaign that marked the difference from Chris Fearne’s ’statesman-like’ approach to campaigning.

Labour government consultant Robert Musumeci added that Abela’s mix of “empathy and sympathy” was also important in the campaign, which he said was surely borrowed from his father, President emeritus George Abela, himself a former deputy leader in the Labour Party who however broke ranks with Alfred Sant in 1998.

“His genuineness is his hallmark… but I’m sure he played his own game to win this race, yet it looks like he means business, in taking decisions that are necessary for the country so that we emerge from the bad times this country, and Labour, have passed through,” the lawyer Bernard Grech said, who knows Abela from the law courts.

The One TV presenter Manuel Micallef said he trusted Abela’s honesty. “Everyone plays a strategic game in an election, it’s just like football… but as Bernard says, Abela has to walk the talk.”

Abela’s Cabinet was also praised for its youthfulness, with changes that has seen older ministers removed and young backbenchers promoted to ministerial roles. “Labour has given a strong signal with its generational change, and that’s something the PN has yet to catch up with,” Vital Zammit said. “I was surprised that Carmelo Abela is no longer foreign minister, which means a lot of relationships one builds in this role are no longer there. But I feel all new ministers must be given their chance…”

Musumeci said that as long Abela reaches out to people, even those perceived to be opponents of the Labour government, he would replicate the success of Muscat’s own ‘movement’.

Grech said any political leader had to embrace people seeking out opportunity. “You cannot frustrate people because you end up in a siege mentality. A political leader must be like that father and the prodigal son, striving to understand those who are hurt, and trying to embrace them.”