The Malta Independent 12 July 2020, Sunday

Choose for the country, not the party

Friday, 10 January 2020, 10:02 Last update: about 7 months ago

When the 17,000 Labour Party members and electors vote for a new party leader and prime minister on Saturday they do not have the leisure to think first and foremost of the party. The party is in government and the man who will be chosen will be sworn as prime minister in consequence.

One, Chris Fearne, comes with a ministerial experience and the other one, Robert Abela, carries his father's experience as President of the Republic with him.

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But there is a huge difference between these past roles and the role of a prime minister, who in the Maltese context, is the uncrowned monarch of this small state. The buck stops at Castille. No past role can prepare one to be the top of the pile.

The chosen one will have a steep learning curve to climb, starting perhaps with the choice of the Cabinet.

It is thus important that right from the beginning, the preferred interlocutor of the new premier should be the country as a whole, rather than the party.

The country has come through some very tough times as the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia brought with it the unraveling of an entire government with unsuspected links leading right to the Office of the Prime Minister on the one hand and to big business on the other. The country has been deeply traumatized with what has been revealed.

On the other hand, the government supporters are deeply traumatized as well at the sudden and, for them, unacceptable collapse of a government strong by the sheer size of the 2017 election victory.

So the new prime minister is called upon to heal the rift in the country. He comes without the baggage that has accompanied Joseph Muscat these past weeks and months. Both candidates offer, it is true, continuity, but it is clear that the country is yearning for a deep change in how things are done.

On the other hand, there is much good that has been done and is being done. Seen from our special perspective, there is an economy that is doing well - although perhaps not as well as many think, considering the amount of people at the risk of poverty, the unstoppable influx of third country nationals ready to work at rock-bottom rates and without skills.

The events of the past months, rather the events of the past years, have cast a long shadow on Malta's international reputation especially on the financial services sector. This is an area where the new prime minister is called upon to tackle from the first days in office.

Then there is the international scene with war in Libya, conflagration in Iraq, and an EU that is completely absent from what's going on.

And Brexit approaching with unknown impacts on the Maltese who live in Britain, the tourists coming to Malta for sun and the traditional welcome and the commercial and trade relations between the two countries.

The new premier does not have the luxury of a running-in: he must hit the ground running.

All this, and more besides, is all the more reason why the Labour delegates must think of the country more than of the party.


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