The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

TMID Editorial: Robert Abela - The six weeks that swayed an election

Monday, 13 January 2020, 08:52 Last update: about 11 months ago

Robert Abela was elected to the Labour Party leadership because he is similar to Joseph Muscat.

And Chris Fearne lost the election because he is too dissimilar.

Labour Party supporters have chosen Abela to lead them in the new decade and also gave him the keys to the country. Abela will be sworn in as Prime Minister today.

It was a surprise result for many, especially the margin with which it was achieved. Abela garnered nearly 58 per cent of the tally, and as the votes began being counted at the PL headquarters early Sunday, his victory was never in doubt.


Fearne started off the campaign having a substantial lead, according to surveys that were published in early December, soon after Muscat announced his intention to resign. But, day after day, the gap was narrowed and, as the official results now show, it was completely overturned in Abela’s favour by the time the real voting exercise took place.

Now we know that Muscat did not resign immediately for reasons other than those to travel around the world in the last six weeks to do God knows what. He told us it was none of our business, anyway.

These six weeks were used to steer the election away from the favourite towards the “underdog”, a tag that Abela gave himself, very much in the same way that Muscat did time and again – because, let’s face it, Fearne was the one who, on paper, had the better chances at the start of the race.

The whispering campaign that swayed the result towards Abela needed time to succeed, and so calls for Muscat to quit “immediately” were discarded.

During this timeframe, Labour delegates and members were fed the narrative that Fearne would have dismantled Muscat’s legacy which, in their minds, was nothing more than his capability to lead Labour to successive electoral victories, never mind the assassination of a journalist and the taking apart of the country’s institutions, not to mention cronyism and corruption.  

We know that, for the staunch Labourites who had the right to vote, Muscat is the saviour who lifted them out of what they believed were 25 years of misery under Nationalist administrations. Their “king” could do no wrong, in spite of recently also earning the not-so-glorious title of “2019 man of the year in organised crime and corruption”. And so they voted for “continuity”, for a man who was described to them as Muscat’s clone.

Fearne appeared to be too distant and too different from Muscat, and Labour Party members feared that the drastic action that he could have taken would have spelt trouble. For one thing, the Health Minister promised a conference on good governance and the rule of law, and this was perceived as being a threat to what Muscat constructed in the last years. At least, this is what the Labour voters were told. For them, what is important is that the party remains in power, and so they voted for the party, rather than for the country.

Robert Abela today starts his voyage as Malta’s 14th Prime Minister. We do sincerely hope that he will not be a replica of his predecessor. Rather than “continuity”, we would like to see a fresh beginning where all that was so wrong under the Muscat administration is put aside – and, where necessary, also investigated and punished.

So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for now, and wish him well.

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