The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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Joseph wanted Helena but got Chris

Stephen Calleja Wednesday, 19 July 2017, 09:24 Last update: about 8 years ago

Even the best of machines can fail.

It was clear that Joseph Muscat and his entourage wanted Helena Dalli to become Labour’s deputy leader for parliamentary affairs, which would have automatically made her second in command as deputy prime minister too.

She would have become the first woman to occupy the post, continuing the tradition that it is always the Labour Party who first appoints a woman to key positions.

Joseph and his machine planned it out. The election took place the day after the historic vote in Parliament granting gays the right to get married, a law that was initiated, piloted and seen through by none other than Helena Dalli.

She was in the spotlight for several days before Labour’s internal election, and this exposure was programmed to give Helena Dalli an advantage over her competitors. In the end, Dalli’s elimination in the first round of votes could be interpreted as a sign that Labour delegates are not too comfortable with gay marriage. Or maybe it was a sign of protest against the idea, which was adamantly sustained by Dalli, to eliminate “father”, “mother”, “husband” and “wife from our legal vocabulary.

There were other ways by which Helena Dalli’s candidature was pushed, and the most blatant one were two successive editorials in the pro-Labour newspaper l-orizzont last week. One would assume that most Labour delegates read l-orizzont regularly, and the idea was to influence their decision.

“It is not by coincidence that the gay marriage law was passed on the eve of the election for PL deputy leader,” l-orizzont wrote on Thursday, confirming that the legislation was specifically timed to exactly precede the internal Labour election. The next day, the day of the vote, l-orizzont was even more direct:  “Labour delegates have a unique opportunity to show they believe women are respected in the (Labour Party)”.

With the orizzont editor on his way to a job at Castille, what he wrote in the paper must have had the blessing of his new employers. The paper stopped short of saying “Vote Helena”, but the message was clear enough.

Well, l-orizzont failed miserably in trying to put pressure on the Labour delegates. Or, worse, Labour delegates voted against Helena Dalli because they wanted to reject the newspaper’s message.

Edward Scicluna was then Joseph Muscat’s second choice after Helena Dalli, but even here the plan did not work out, because it was Chris Fearne who made it to the second most important post in the government and party.

Unlike Scicluna, Fearne has the ambition to reach the top and, with Muscat saying he will not contest the next election, he is now in prime position to plan his next step. Muscat did not want Fearne to win precisely for this reason, because he would prefer to leave the party and government in somebody else’s hands.

Fearne’s victory against all odds is a personal victory against the Labour machine, one that jolted the planned hierarchy. 

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