The Malta Independent 20 October 2018, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: No third term for Muscat - Paving the way for a successor

Sunday, 11 February 2018, 11:00 Last update: about 9 months ago

Joseph Muscat confirmed yesterday that he will not be seeking a second term as Prime Minister, telling a radio show host that “no circumstances” will change his mind on the matter.

Muscat, who became Labour leader in 2008 and steered the party towards victory after victory, had always said that his was a 10-year project.

Many calls have been made for him to reconsider his position and seek a third term – it is very clear that his supporters are enjoying the PL’s winning streak and do not want to see it end any time soon.

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Those calls would only have become stronger if the PL trashes the Nationalist Party at the next showdown – the European Parliament elections next year – which is a very likely scenario.

But Muscat has put an end to all that – his comment on the matter yesterday was final. He will step down later on during this legislature and the party must launch the long and arduous, but nonetheless exciting process of finding a suitable replacement.

Many names are being put forward, and three of them stand out.

The first is Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne, who currently finds himself occupied with the doctors’ strike. Fearne is not part of Muscat’s inner clique, which includes Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri of Panama fame.

Many feel that Fearne can stay the party on the course of economic success while cleaning up its image from the stain of corruption.

The fact that he won the deputy leadership race, beating off competition from a popular finance minister and an even more popular social liberties minister who also happened to be Joseph Muscat’s preferred choice, attests to his rising popularity within the party.

The technocrat is also considered a good match for Nationalist leader Adrian Delia, who is still struggling to strengthen his grip on his own party, particularly its parliamentary group.

Another politician who would make a good party leader is MEP Miriam Dalli.

The former journalist is popular, level headed and enjoys widespread respect, including that of the opposing party. She has largely steered clear of local partisan controversies and has built up a solid reputation as a Euro parliamentarian but that has, on the other hand, led to the decline of her national profile.

She could become the PL’s first female leader, and possibly the country’s first woman Prime Minister. That would certainly be another feather in Labour’s cap. The PL, after all, prides itself on being the party of ‘firsts.’

Last year, when Joseph Muscat entrusted her with leading a PL initiative to encourage more women to participate in politics many interpreted the move as a signal that Dalli is Muscat’s successor of choice. But Chris Fearne’s success in the deputy leadership election clearly showed that Muscat does not always get his way.

The third name that is being touted as a possible contender is Robert Abela, the son of President Emeritus George Abela. The young lawyer is another party machine favourite, and has been entrusted to spearhead several PL media campaigns dealing with PN scandals. There is an obvious effort to push him to the forefront of things.

The fact that his wife is the PL’s executive secretary can only work in his favour and Abela will undoubtedly have learnt a thing or two from his father’s unsuccessful leadership bid in 2008.

He is ambitious, but will his lucrative government consultancies keep him from seeking the party’s top spot?

Other names are being mentioned, such as the young transport minister Ian Borg. The former Dingli mayor is a rising star but so far lacks the stature to become party leader.

What is almost certain is that the PL leadership race will not be as painful for the party as last September’s election was for the PN. That election only served to fracture an already damaged party and, while there have been some signs of slight recovery, the healing process is likely to take many years.

Labour, on the other hand, has always been more united, at least in appearance. The 2008 race was tense and hard fought, but the entire party, including those who were not and are still not happy with Muscat, put on a brave face and soldiered on, as one efficient unit.

This concept is vital for the survival of a political party. The PN should try it out.

 

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