An authoritarian in the making

Malta’s 2022 was characterised by the general election and Robert Abela’s first election victory as the Labour Party’s leader. If you would have asked me whether Robert Abela would ever have become the leader of the Labour Party in 2017 I would have told you that you were mad, but clearly, Joseph Muscat had other plans.

Fixed at the Office of the Prime Minister as a consultant, Robert Abela was never a party activist. Joseph Muscat kept the Abela family in his fold to appease it and appease it he did with multiple public contracts which made Robert and his family richer. This was after all what Lawrence Gonzi did to the Abelas – pay them large sums of money in dubious public contracts so as to keep them out of politics. Apparently, everyone had a reason to keep the Abelas out of politics. Gonzi wanted fewer Labour adversaries while Muscat wanted to groom them before enabling them to take over the Party. On the other hand, most of the delegates in the Party still viewed the Abelas as opportunistic imbeciles who were riding the Party’s bandwagon out of pure self-interest and most of them us did not want them anywhere near political power.

But Robert stuck with Joseph Muscat like an annoying little prick you can’t get rid of. An inevitable result of biological evolution which by time became useless for the majority. An unproductive parasite which sucks from its host without giving anything back. For years, Robert raked in hundreds of thousands of Euros from public contracts and his friends at the OPM connected him with Russian oligarchs. All the while, despite being flush with cash, Robert couldn’t muster a respectable business and his private work consisted of insider trading at the Planning Authority and servicing some of the worst criminal scum in society. Robert is the imbecile par excellence in the rent-seeking elite.

Muscat had, however, perfect use for Robert. An empty vessel can be filled with anything you’d like. Robert was like a robot who could be calibrated and modified to perform any task one desired. He was so ambitious, so self-serving, so idiotic, so unprincipled and amoral that Robert would do anything for his master and in fact, he did many dirty jobs, such as defending Keith Schembri in court when he was still Chief of Staff, attacking Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family, and constantly on daily-basis, knowingly and willingly, defending the rampant corrupt deals enacted by Muscat and his friends. For Muscat’s fans and Labour’s supporters, Robert was viewed as the obedient and loyal servant of the Party who was fighting to defend its leader from unjust accusations. Muscat played him like a fool, but Robert went along with it because he had no other way to pursue his grand ambitions. Bereft of any skill other than ingratiation and grifting, Robert’s way to power was by serving the master in any way possible. There weren’t many in the Party who would go all the way to defend Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, but Robert would do it and this pleased Muscat very well.

In November 2019 when the curtains began closing on Muscat, Robert was in the right place at the right time. It was Robert’s moment to shine and he did it in the only way he knows that is by ingratiating himself with his master. Robert absolved his master and deflected all the blame on Keith Schembri. “Dak il-kurnut ħxiek” and with that crass ridiculous statement, he made his bid for party leadership. I was then a very active Labour Party delegate so I had a stake in such a decision. I voiced my opinion.

I sent an email to all Labour MPs telling them that Robert Abela and Miriam Dalli were incompetent and would lead the party only to serve Muscat’s interests. I said, in addition, that they were totally incompetent and totally unprepared for the economic crises that were upon us and also made reference to when Robert Abela defended Keith Schembri in court. Robert replied denying my claims. He would never contact me again. Robert’s path to power was very determined, simplistic, straightforward and with clear-set goals and prerequisites. After striking a deal with Joseph Muscat for his support, Robert would win the leadership race and uphold his end of the bargain with Muscat by protecting him from justice. Yet, striking a deal with Muscat meant purging the part of the Party which sought to see Muscat face justice and that included minority dissidents like myself.

Indeed, Robert’s first actions in the party were to purge his critics and take absolute control over the Party but Covid got in the way and Robert could not even attempt to depose Chris Fearne. When Charmaine Gauci became a household name, Robert saw an opportunity for a new ally and Fearne’s admonishment, but Fearne preempted this by giving Charmaine Gauci a six-figure salary making her unbothered about a political career. After losing the opportunity with Charmaine, Robert turned to other individuals who all turned down his indecent proposal. Inside the Party, Robert made it no secret that he wants to depose Fearne. Everyone knows this. Fearne took his revenge in a gentlemanly way. Fearne presented amendments to Malta’s strict abortion laws in the cabinet of his own volition forcing Robert into a corner to eventually agree to the reforms. On the other hand, I was not so lucky. Being the chairman of the National Book Council is not as important as being the Health Minister in times of a pandemic.

However, taking complete control over the Party is not enough for Robert Abela. His first major reform as Prime Minister this year was a direct attack on the press. He also holds no secrets over his contempt for the press – he refuses to be interviewed just as his ministers refuse to answer questions. His proposed press reform included a military committee to “protect journalists”, new provisions to protect the privacy of all individuals, enforcement of SLAPP decisions capped with local legal damages, and he also intends to re-introduce criminal libel under the guise of new cyber-bullying laws. He had to lay down his press reform after all of the independent press opposed it and is now trying to conjure new plans with his apparatchiks and pseudo-consultation committees for a new draft.

There is nothing that Robert likes best more than adulation and attention. Shutting down his critics will be an effective way for him to drown out the noises which harm his ego but Robert needs to be liked by as many people as possible. The only way he could be liked is to give people free money and the Covid pandemic gave him this golden opportunity. He couldn’t have asked for a better situation where he gets to order the mailing of cheques to as many people as possible so as to get to say “see how good I am to you”. There’s a very uncanny resemblance to the 1990s. While Robert plunders the treasury to keep the country afloat, Robert has no plans for the economy or the future of society and he is still too busy upholding his end of the bargain with Joseph Muscat to be able to seriously contemplate the future of the country. At least the Nationalists had the free market and the European Union – Robert has absolutely nothing in store for the country other than to keep it company with his egocentric premiership. He is so bored, unworked and vacuous that he even had enough time in Summer to take a two-month-long holiday on his yacht. His economic legacy is a race track in prime industrial real estate.

We have seen this movie already and we know how it ends. The political atmosphere is reminiscent of the 1990s when the Nationalists seemed invincible and the Labour Party seemed to be condemned at the Opposition benches for eternity. The arrogance and the excesses of the Nationalists only increased the desperation for an alternative. Robert is deluding himself that he will stay in power for an eternity to come, and by doing so he is fighting for his survival and that of Muscat and his friends. I think that if history may serve as a guide, Robert is going to be severely disappointed.

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