By the time you are reading these observations by yours truly, the chances are that the boxes have been opened and we will shortly have an indication of the result. The chances are that you are patiently waiting for the confirmation of what is, I believe, already a foregone conclusion. And has inevitably been that way ever since PN past leader Simon Busuttil was too weak to reorganise the Nationalist Party into one synergic front which might just have given Labour a run for their money.
The election campaign was what it was. A dull and irrelevant spectacle of a professional and motivated Labour grinding and annihilating on a daily basis the tired, archaic and highly dysfunctional level of opposition meted out by a Party who was merely holding its breath till the last week of the campaign to see how bad the haemorrhage of Party deserters would be.
Bernard did not go down well with the electorate. They tried to project him as a mini-Eddie. But it just did not work out for him at all. He was put in a position which was doomed from the start. The leadership poisoned chalice included being dictated to by a small and extremist minority establishment, party officials and representatives jumping ship throughout the whole legislation, uncalled for gaffes and howlers which raised the eyebrows of all those well-wishing voters out there pining for change.
But, most importantly, Bernard could never shrug off the element of sour grapes and his adopting a negative attitude to something because they cannot have it themselves. This just was not the Bernard Grech I knew on a personal level. It was the Bernard Grech that was pivoted out there by the ultra-conservative wing of the Party whose high and mighty arrogance and disdain at anything left-wing and/or liberal had poisoned the PN DNA beyond comprehension.
Robert Abela, on the other hand, kept a cool head throughout the campaign. Assertive and ‘safe’, he continued projecting the mental image of a benevolent leader, who did quite ok when the going was tough (corona virus, international price spiking, Ukraine conflict etc) and who had more to give the nation when all the above would simmer down and subside.
Bernard did not go down well with the electorate. They tried to project him as a mini-Eddie. But it just did not work out for him at all.
Contrary to past instances, Labour suffered insignificant auto-goals during the campaign whilst the opposition party was mercilessly riddled with self-inflicted damage which made it an even bigger choice of a solution to a vastly unforgiving electorate.
All in all, it was a unique electoral campaign due to its being run slap bang in the middle of pandemic regulations. Interestingly, such health protocols also hid the local political parties’ potential of ever again managing to raise the huge mass meetings of yesterday, forever synonymous with the Granaries or with the huge enclaves of Hal-Far or Ta’ Qali. Never again would we be able to see such crowds during an electoral campaign. Indeed, we had situations within this campaign that the opposition party did not even manage to fill in the campaign tent, let alone bring about the mob for mass rallies or mass meetings.
I was barely six months old when Labour won the 1971 general elections. I remember nothing whatsoever of that election. It naturally heralded in the fourteen years of Mintoff rule in Malta and within the Labour Party. I do, however, remember in the successive years, a number of households within our Cospicua neighbourhood, all of them proudly sporting a big portrait of Dom as the Labour leader and saviour who had vowed to eradicate poverty. I do remember being taken by my father as a toddler to the annual Dockyard Christmas party and, there, in one of the ‘machine shops’ I also remember the hugest, biggest portrait of Mintoff, with candles to boot.
In September 1976, when Mintoff and Labour were again re-elected by the Maltese voters, our family had already moved from Cospicua, Mintoff’s bastion to Paola. Paola fell within the electoral district dominated by Vincent Moran and Lorry Sant. My family were always Moran followers since the latter was our family doctor and our house being just behind Moran’s residence. I have recollections of my father taking me to Paola square during the 1976 election celebrations and watching the fireworks and the endless carcades amid the cacophony of horns, chants and God knows what else.
The 1981 general elections, held just before my birthday, was the last general elections that I remember whilst being merely a spectator. Without having any specific role or helping hand. It was a period when I was a De La Salle student and that meant that it was certainly not kosher to be Labour. I had the sons of PN candidates and officials as classmates, the nephew of one very political La Sallian brother, and a thousand reasons to shut up about politics. I remember the Capuchin friars at Ghajn Dwieli literally demonising Mintoff to all us choir boys, although I have to be honest and state that not all of them did so and one Franciscan bigshot at Ghajn Dwieli church (he later moved to Marsa as Parish priest) was indeed a Labour Party sympathiser.
It was the general election which featured countless hundreds of rabbits all over the place during the Labour victory celebrations and today’s Net FM sweetheart Eileen Montesin gleefully airing the infamous ‘Run, Rabbit, Run’. Written for a comedy revue show in 1939, one of the most famous songs of World War II was Run Rabbit Run, sung by Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen – the comedy double act known as Flanagan and Allen. The duo changed the lyrics to take the mickey out of Hitler. Labour did not need to change the lyrics since ‘rabbit’ is the English language translation of ‘fenek’, alluding to the opposition leader’s surname.
During the eighties, I started being politically involved. It happened during the teachers’ strike when Labour was fighting for the right of free education for all, including free education in private schools. I started being active and chaired the national students’ movement for five whole years. My political work and, later, my appointments within the Party structures meant constant and daily contact with Labour leader Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who would be responsible for the 1987 elections, which we barely lost by a mere 4,000 votes and then the 1992 general elections. During the years leading to the latter general election, KMB’s leadership of the Party was instrumental and highly decisive in ensuring that Labour would not implode and splinter just like the Nationalist Party did after Lawrence Gonzi.
Mintoff did not remain the becandelled portrait I remembered when I was a toddler. He became the larger than life ex-prime minister at the House of Four Winds and at l-Gharix. I was being taxied, nearly on a daily basis, by the Prime Minister, and later with KMB as leader of the Opposition, back home late at night by the former’s white Volkswagen or Marie Louise Coleiro’s yellow Daihatsu Charade, since the latter was Secretary General of the Party.
In time, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici gave way to Alfred Sant as Party Leader. I was a parliamentary candidate in the 1996 elections which returned Labour to government, thankfully missing my parliamentary seat by a whisker. Alfred Sant then gave way to Joseph Muscat, who, in turn, gave way to Robert Abela. I was therefore active, in one form or another, for nine general elections if one counts this year’s as well.
This general election is wholly different then all these others for one major reason. It will finally give Robert Abela the chance of having the electorate vote in his own parliamentary group. His own selection for cabinet. It will give Robert Abela the opportunity to run the country as he sees fit and not as required due to his being bequeathed with an already made team by his predecessor.
This general election and its outcome will hopefully also give the opposition party the strength to recharge, rejuvenate and reboot itself as worthy of the electorate’s confidence. Something which should have been done after the 2013 general elections. Something which needs to be done urgently after the results of this election become official. One lives in hope that some things are better served late than never served at all.