The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Muscat remains - What was averted and the challenges ahead

Tuesday, 17 September 2019, 09:48 Last update: about 30 days ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recent move to publicly state that he will not be resigning before, during or after the budget has dispelled rumours of his imminent departure, but questions are now raised as to the circumstances surrounding this issue.

First of all, the Prime Minister has made it clear in the past that he would not serve in the post past ten years (which are not yet up) and that he believes that Prime Ministers should not surpass two terms (which will end when this legislature closes).

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With this in mind, Muscat will step down by the end of this legislature if he remains true to his beliefs, however that does not necessarily mean stepping down now.

At the same time, five candidates have been unofficially campaigning behind the scenes for quite a while, so why is it that Muscat only spoke up now? Indeed his right hand man and head of communications Kurt Farrugia had moved job, thus indicating that Muscat had one foot out the door.

It was said that Muscat had grander ambitions, to take up some form of European post. If that were indeed the case then that hope fell through a few months ago. Leadership hopefuls kept on campaigning throughout the summer, with some candidates ramping up their momentum.

Last Sunday’s statement by Muscat might actually have been to prevent this situation from escalating at this time. Whenever a leadership race comes about, they are usually quite brutal behind the scenes. Perhaps Muscat feared this particular race would not be able to be contained if hitting full steam?

Indeed having a bloody internal fight just after the PN quietened down, would not be the best political move for the PL. If the PN manages to keep internal calm and the PL were to fall into their own internal disputes, then that might actually dispel the aura of leadership that the PL currently automatically emits.

Regardless the five candidates, while on different occasions stating that they would want Muscat to remain, would undoubtedly have been taken aback by this statement.

As for Labour supporters in general, Muscat’s statement was very welcomed. He has been an extremely successful leader for their party, and has managed to attract many new supporters. They would, of course, want Muscat to stay on for as long as possible, however party delegate were hurt when Muscat was seemingly willing to leave Malta for a job within the European Commission.

In terms of economic growth, having a Prime Minister sending conflicting signals will have an effect on the economic stability of country. He needs to be clearer when announcing his intentions.  

But Muscat is going to have to face certain issues in the coming months and years. First of all, the government’s failure to protect the environment has begun to cause cracks in the PL’s armour. Even labour supporters begin to question the government’s failed handling of the planning sector.

In addition, certain reforms also place the government at loggerheads with certain sectors of society, such as landowners through certain proposals in the rent reforms and the lack of initiative to tackle pre-1995 rents.  In addition, high people are starting to feel the pinch in terms of prices of every day goods. There are also developers and contractors who need to be appeased, especially with the lack of space available for the dumping construction waste.

Muscat will need to find a way to keep people happy, but here in lies the conundrum. There is a section of society who will never vote for Muscat. There is a section that will always vote for him. But then there are the in-betweens who wins or lose elections. While Muscat has kept them happy until now, he cannot do so forever. He would need to choose between developers and environmentalists for example. He will need to take certain measures that will anger either tenants or landlords.

Up until now he has managed to keep a balance, but frustration levels in certain areas are rising.

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