The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Voting time – Election rumours

Tuesday, 4 May 2021, 08:21 Last update: about 7 days ago

Last week, as Worker’s Day was approaching, the rumour mill about the date of the next election was in full swing.

It could be because people were thinking of what happened last time round, in 2017. Then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat cut his first term in office short by one year, announcing the date of the election during a mass meeting held on 1 May. He had done so at a time when the Panama Papers had hit his party hard; still, in spite of all that was taking place, the PL had still won handsomely.

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We are now in the fourth year of Labour’s second consecutive administration, and this pushed some to think that Robert Abela would have emulated his predecessor, and called an election one year before it is due.

It did not happen.

The rumour-mongers were probably thinking that, with the Covid-19 numbers down, an election in the coming weeks would have served two purposes: the government would ride on its perceived success in controlling the pandemic and, secondly, the risks of people gathering at polling booths would be limited. The overall thought for the rumour-mongers is that now is the right time to hold an election before, possibly, the Covid-19 numbers go up again.

Another reason – again, for the rumour-mongers – is that survey results are showing that the Nationalist Party is catching up. Over the past years, the Labour Party has been consistently ahead in popularity, but in the past months the Nationalist Party has eaten into the PL’s lead. It is still not enough, and as things stand now the PL looks set to win a third term in a row. But an early election would kill the PN’s momentum.

A third reason is that Abela could be thinking of an early election because no day seems to pass without some scandal emerging. Under police commissioner Angelo Gafa, the police are actively pursuing avenues that were previously being ignored, while also giving attention to what its official were and/or are doing. Fears that something extraordinary could derail Labour’s chances could, no doubt, push Abela into cutting this term short.

When asked about the possibility of an election, Abela has always rightly so chosen to dismiss the issue. He knows – and everyone should know – that talk of an election inevitably causes a slowdown. With the economy already struggling in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the last thing that is needed is rumours of an impending election. This is perhaps why, then, an early election would not be the right decision.

Now that Malta is slowly reopening to business – retail outlets have been allowed to open and, as from next week, so will restaurants (albeit with a 5pm curfew) – holding an election now would inevitably hit business again at a time when they should be getting all the support they need to recover from months of uncertainty.

The legislature still has 16 months to run. The more time passes, the more the rumour mill will grow. But, ultimately, it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative.

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