The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial - Abela’s big problem: Joseph Muscat

Sunday, 23 January 2022, 11:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela has made significant efforts to distance himself, the government and the Labour Party from its recent dirty past and from the Muscat era.

But this is proving to be a very tall order, and his predecessor, as well as the scandals of the previous administrations, keep popping up at every turn.

This is not to say that this government does not have its own dirty washing to deal with. The recent scandals involving Justyne Caruana and Rosianne Cutajar come to mind.

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But on top of that, Abela is having to firefight the scandals that spilled over from the last administration, including the problematic situation surrounding Joseph Muscat.

Just last week, the Labour Party ‘celebrated’ the first two years of Robert Abela’s government, highlighting the successes and reforms carried out by this administration.

But only a few days later, the country was again discussing Muscat and the police raid on his house, which was carried out in connection with one of the biggest scandals in recent years – the hospitals privatisation deal.

To make matters worse, Muscat has again hinted at a possible return to politics, in a move that has already caused waves within the Labour Party and which could threaten to undermine the government and possibly cause a split within the seemingly invincible PL.

We say this because Abela’s Cabinet still includes some Muscat diehards – MPs who are still fiercely loyal to the former Prime Minister, despite the transgressions that took place under his watch.

It has been reported that Abela has had to call in his ministers in small groups to ask them to tell their constituents to “remain calm and serene.”

Abela knows all too well that Muscat’s cult status is still very much alive and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Several Labour Party exponents this week openly questioned by Abela did nothing to stop the police raid at Burmarrad, while others repeated the mantra that Muscat could never have done anything wrong.

Some of them, including One TV boss Jason Micallef and veteran Labour propagandist Manuel Cuschieri even called on Labourites to take to the streets in support of Muscat.

Things were further complicated by the way in which the raid was carried out, early in the morning, and with investigators confiscating the mobile phones belonging to Muscat’s young daughters. While there might have been reasons to justify this, it also made Muscat look like a martyr – just what his supporters needed.

Abela has a big problem on his hands, especially with an election around the corner.

He knows that he cannot share his popularity with Muscat. He probably knows that Muscat is more powerful than him in terms of popularity among Labourites. After all, Muscat remains for them the man who revived the Labour Party and returned it to glory.

A very delicate game is being played. Abela is quietly trying to calm his troops and send the message that he is the boss, and no one else. But he knows that Muscat will not go away any time soon and that, the more scandals emerge, and the more Muscat is attacked by the Opposition, the stronger he will become among the Labour core.

On the other hand, Muscat said he is making a comeback, at least on social media, and he is very much aware of the support he still enjoys and that many in the Labour Party will defy their new leader and come to his aid.

Muscat is not the only politician Labourite diehards will support to the end. They do the same with Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. Every time that new dirt emerges on the two, an armada of PL supporters will come out and defend them to the hilt, irrespective of what they have done.

But the situation with Muscat is different. In Muscat, these diehards still see the true leader of the Labour Party. Many of them feel that Abela is weak, also because, in their minds, he should be doing something to ‘protect’ the former PM.

This is a problem that Abela need to sort out, and fast. It is ironic that, rather than damage Labour’s popularity, scandals seem to strengthen his predecessor.

So while the government should, in the coming weeks and months be focusing on the upcoming election and how to remain in power, Abela will have to face the daunting task of keeping the party united under his leadership, while at the same time trying to prove that he is the one and only leader, and that Labour will not go back to the ways of the past.

 

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