The Malta Independent 25 February 2020, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: A new Prime Minister - No time to stretch your legs

Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 09:55 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela’s swearing in ceremony took place on Monday, with MPs, ministers and those close to the new Prime Minister making their way to the Palace in St George’s Square, Valletta.

While the entrance was cordoned off to the public, a number of supporters did line the barriers to wave, chant and cheer as Abela, and other PL MPs and Ministers arrived.

One thing however did stick out… the crowd wasn’t sizeable. Indeed it was actually quite small, especially for appointment of a Labour Party Prime Minister. This could mean a number of things. Firstly, it could mean that there is a sense of apathy by the majority of PL supporters towards Prime Minister Abela, which would mean that he would need to work that much harder. It could mean that Fearne supporters are not pleased with their party’s decision. It could also mean that the supporters do not know Abela well enough. There could be a number of explanations, however it does mean that Abela will need to work to get out of his predecessor’s shadow.

A few other things did stick out at the event. The first was Neville Gafa’s presence. Gafa is a controversial figure in the Labour Party, due to the whole Visa scandal, and his very close friendship with the former Prime Minister’s chief of Staff Keith Schembri. What exactly was Gafa doing there? Will he receive some kind of post?

Another surprise was the cheering for Konrad Mizzi. It is astonishing how, even after all the scandals, the damage to Malta’s reputation, and the suspicion around every government contract he touched, Former tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi still gets loud cheers and applause from Labour Party supporters. This is a testament to the power of the Labour Party’s propaganda machine.

Following the ceremony, Abela came outside and took part in a very short question and answer session with the press, then, like his predecessor, walked from the Palace to Castille, shaking hands and hugging supporters.

Shortly after arriving at Castille, the announcement was made that Abela would deliver his first address to the nation that very night. It was announced that the speech would have been aired before the 8pm news, then it was broadcast at 9.15. By doing this, Abela kept the nation waiting, but did not really deliver a speech containing any substance.

The speech was not what many expected. Many wanted Abela to outline his immediate plan for the coming week, to announce whether or not he would be reshuffling Cabinet, to say what action he intends to take, if any, in Konrad Mizzi’s regard, and about the Police commissioner, who towards the beginning of the campaign Abela said would not be kept on.

Many expected Abela to speak about tackling corruption, to address issues with the rule of law, and to at least give an outline of his plan to tackle Malta’s reputational damage. There was nothing of the sort in Abela's speech.

Delivering a speech saying the country wants to register more success, and detailing his wish to push for unity under normal circumstances would be fine. However Abela did not inherit a unified country, and did not come to be Prime Minister under normal circumstances. He has a lot of work to do, and fast. Not addressing the pressing matters in the middle of a political crisis, where his predecessor resigned in the midst of political turmoil following recent revelations into the murder of a journalist, does not cut it.

Abela might not get the leg room most new Prime Minister’s would have once elected, as there isn’t the time. The people need to see what kind of Prime Minister Abela will be, but he will not get the same leeway as others might have under different circumstances, and that is not his fault but the fault of his predecessor.

The people need action, certain heads of authorities seen as inadequate need to be replaced, trust needs to be restored in the institutions. It will be a mammoth of a task, one which Abela will either succeed in doing, or fail. There is no middle ground.

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