The Malta Independent 5 December 2021, Sunday

TMIS Editorial: The election date and another jolt to the economy

Sunday, 24 October 2021, 10:45 Last update: about 2 months ago

The days leading up to the presentation of the budget for 2022, in particular the Prime Minister’s address in response to the speech from the Opposition Leader, were filled with talk about an election.

It was coming mostly from the Nationalist Party, while the Labour side tried to temper the discussion. In the end, Robert Abela did not announce the date of the election. The country has to wait a little bit longer to know when it will choose its next government.

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For some reason that is hard to understand, it seems that the PN wants to get the election campaign going. In spite of surveys continuously showing that the PN is facing its third consecutive electoral defeat – apart from all its other losses at local council and European Parliament level – the PN wants the election to arrive as quickly as possible. The way its media is tackling the subject and how its journalists are asking questions on the election date seems to be a clear strategy that the PN is pushing for an election now, and not in 2022. It can easily be described as an obsession.

The PN is already in election mode, and it is running the risk of arriving at the real campaign with little fuel left in its tanks. Over the past weeks, we have seen a steady rise in the number of activities that the party is holding. We are talking mostly about daily press conferences, sometimes two a day, and an increase in the number of statements the party is issuing. The presence of the PN is growing, and not for the wrong reasons, as was the case for two and more years when there was so much internal fighting.

In the past few weeks, the PN has come up with several proposals which have caught public attention. Just to give one example, the speech delivered by Opposition Leader Bernard Grech in Parliament on Monday was more of an “alternative budget” rather than criticism to the one that was presented by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana the previous week.

But it is hard to imagine that what Grech said on Monday, in spite of its significance, is enough to sway the election in the PN’s favour.

After the victory with more than 35,000 votes obtained by Labour in 2013, it was thought that if the PN had managed to reduce the gap to between 15,000-20,000 in 2017, it would have made a big step forward. But Simon Busuttil was unable to make a dent in Labour’s advantage and, although he had the support of the Partit Demokratiku, in coalition with the PN, the defeat in 2017 ended up being even heavier. This happened in spite of the Panama Papers and all they brought with them.

Now there is similar talk in PN circles, also in reference to the party leadership. The situation seems to be similar to what we had four years ago. If Grech leads the PN to a defeat with more or less half the margin when compared to 2017, then it is said that the PN would be on the right track. Otherwise, the PN would most likely have to go through the trauma of another change in leadership – it had one in 2013, one in 2017, and a third in 2020.

The Labour Party has the advantage of knowing when the election will be held. We are sure that, in the inner circles, the election date is already on everyone’s mind. It can therefore pace its plan better.

We were probably given a strong hint some weeks ago, when it was announced that the visit by Pope Francis, once again, had been postponed to “the first quarter of next year”. It is not likely that the Vatican would want to pontiff to come over before the election.

But, aside from this, the months leading up to an election in Malta always create an element of uncertainty, which affects the stability of the country.

Abela has always said that the date of the election is always based on the “national interest”. It is difficult to believe this, because every prime minister seeks his party’s interest first when it comes to calling an election.

Well, the national interest demands that the economy is not given another jolt, given what it has gone through in the last 18 months or so. To be fair to Abela, the hype about the election date is being created by his political opponents, and so one cannot blame the PM for the current state of ferment that the country finds itself in.

What is sure is that the country is still feeling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and there is no way of knowing what will take place in the near future. Countries that seemed out of the crisis are back in it – the UK and New Zealand are just two examples – while the World Health Organisation this week said that Europe is the only region which has seen a rise in new Covid-19 cases.

We all know that an election in Malta has a negative effect on the economy. As we slowly recover, the last thing we would need is another slowdown brought about by a prolonged hiatus.

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