The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Muscat-Delia - A tale of two leaders

Friday, 3 May 2019, 10:15 Last update: about 5 months ago

The country is in full election mode, as the political parties edge towards two elections – European Parliament and local councils – in the middle of Joseph Muscat’s second term in office.

The outcome seems to be a foregone conclusion, if the result of recent surveys will be confirmed by the vote on 25 May. The Labour Party is set to repeat, and probably improve, on the record victories it obtained since 2013, while the Nationalist Party aims to limit the damage as much as possible with a view to trying to reach out to the electorate in better ways in the next general election, slated for 2022.

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But there is more to this election other than the outcome per se – and this is what will happen to the leaders of the two major parties once the results are out.

Joseph Muscat has announced that he will not be leading the Labour Party to the next election. More recently he added that he will not be leaving in an abrupt manner. While any potential successors, in public, are supporting the idea that Muscat reconsiders his position to remain at the helm, in private they are already planning their moves if and when Muscat goes.

Whether Muscat will stick to his word remains to be seen. It is no big secret to say that he is vying for a position in one of the European institutions, the Europe he worked so strongly to keep Malta away from but in which he always felt comfortable, both as an MEP and later as one of the heads of government forming the European Council.

What can work against Muscat’s idea of a top European position is that his government has been linked to too many corruption scandals, with Muscat taking little or no action to curb, a matter that is not taken lightly by an institution that cannot afford more strife as it deals with the Brexit crisis. Who knows, if Muscat sees that he stands no chance of reaching the position he is aiming for he might have a change of heart and stay on as PL leader.

The situation on the other side of the political fence is quite different. Adrian Delia has struggled from the word go to take full control of the Nationalist Party and there is still a sizeable faction of the PN which has not accepted him, and never will.

Delia has always said that the party’s big test – and, by default, also his test – is the next general election. That is his way of saying that his intention is to stay on as PN leader irrespective of the result of this month’s elections. But there is no doubt that the outcome could be giving fresh ammunition to his internal opponents to push for his resignation.

While, on the PL front, supporters consider Muscat as the best thing to have ever happened to the party, on the PN side there are many supporters who have distanced themselves from the party they always voted for because of Delia’s presence.

The interesting bit is that both Muscat and Delia are strongly urging people to vote – for different reasons. Muscat is saying so because he does not want his supporters to be complacent and believe that a huge victory is already in the bag; for his part, Delia is afraid that too many traditional PN voters will stay home, and this would lead to an even bigger defeat than is anticipated.

The positions of Muscat and Delia in their own respective parties could not be further apart.

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