The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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TMID Editorial: The Muscat factor in the Abela government

Thursday, 1 June 2023, 08:27 Last update: about 2 years ago

Last Sunday, The Malta Independent on Sunday carried a feature highlighting the seven times in which the shadow of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat loomed heavily over the shoulders of his successor Robert Abela.

In his three and a half years as Prime Minister, Abela has had to deal with several issues that circumstances threw at him, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the inflation that started last year but was exacerbated by the still ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But he has also had to address other crises that came about as a result of what happened in the Joseph Muscat administration. These situations were, from a political point of view, the worst that Abela has had to tackle and, while on the one hand he tries as much as possible to distance himself from Muscat, Abela cannot be seen as ditching him completely because he knows that Muscat is still adored by most of Labour’s supporters.

In the feature published last Sunday, we spoke of the Montenegro wind farm and Konrad Mizzi’s dismissal from the Labour Party’s parliamentary group; the arrest of former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri; the uncovering of a company named Macbridge which forced the PM to order the police to investigate (but no charges have as yet been made); the greylisting of Malta by the Financial Action Task Force; the search carried out by the police on Muscat’s home in connection with the investigations into the hospitals’ deal; the annulment by a court of law of the agreement reached by the government for the transfer of three hospitals; and, the latest, the publication of the National Audit Office investigation into the hospitals’ scandal and reports about Muscat’s consultancies.

All situations put Abela with his back to the wall. While Muscat was defending himself saying that he did nothing untoward, Abela was trying to contain the political fallout. And we cannot say that Abela was successful. He is naturally caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, as he has to balance his defence between needing to say that he cannot be held responsible for what others did before him, and yet at the same time not disturbing the grassroots who still see Muscat as the “invincible” leader who took the PL to consecutive electoral victories.

What Abela must realise is that the end to the Muscat saga is nowhere near. The stories mentioned above, and others that might be unearthed in the weeks and months to come, will continue to put pressure on the Prime Minister and the Labour Party.

Whether this will be enough to put Labour’s hold on Castille in jeopardy remains to be seen. The first results of surveys after the February landmark ruling on the hospitals’ deal were a blow to Labour, but it now seems that the situation has stabilised and Labour has not lost more ground.

Still, as we await more developments – and particularly the outcome of magisterial inquiries that should be completed, hopefully soon – Abela knows that he will always be haunted by what Muscat did and does.

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