Anatomy of Leadership: Robert Abela and Bernard Grech

With a general election in Malta approaching and with modern general elections often developing into Presidential contests, a lot of attention is falling on the performance of the leaders of the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party. Both Robert Abela (PL) and Bernard Grech (PN) will be leading their party during a general election campaign for the first time.

However, while Bernard Grech has had a relatively tranquil baptism of fire as Party Leader, Robert Abela, being also the Prime Minister of Malta, has had to face all the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is interesting to note that recent polling has shown that Robert Abela is trusted more by potential voters than Bernard Grech and the Labour Party more than the Nationalist Party. Indeed, by early April, 2021, a newspaper poll showed that the gap in trust was as much as 11 points between the party leaders and 6 points between the political parties. What has led to the great gap in trust between the two party leaders? 

First of all, despite occupying the position for the first time in his political career, Robert Abela has shown great qualities of leadership as Malta’s Prime Minister. Although faced by the great difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, he has managed to keep the economy functioning through various measures aimed at sustaining hard-hit businesses and industry. At the same time, various social measures have had a positive impact on the lives of the workers affected by the pandemic.

Furthermore, his decision to avoid putting the country into a total lockdown, as demanded by some observers of the situation, has proved to have been the correct one. Moreover, the medical services have proved equal to the daunting challenge presented by the pandemic and have not collapsed under the strain as predicted by some pessimists. Abela has also overseen the introduction of various measures aimed at strengthening good governance and the rule of law in Malta following the fallout from the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the revelations exposing the alleged corruption of people close to former Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat.

On the other hand, Bernard Grech’s leadership of the Nationalist Party has been a mixture of successes and failures. Grech has been successful in uniting most of the party under his leadership and has also stopped the haemorrhage of PN supporters but he still has not solved the problem of the former leader, Adrian Delia. Indeed, Delia has gone on behaving like a loose cannon, making public statements which have embarrassed Bernard Grech. He has also acted almost as if he was an independent candidate, even refusing to form part of Grech’s shadow cabinet. The fact that Delia is still very popular with many PN supporters has also meant that Bernard Grech has to use kid gloves when dealing with Delia.

Being indebted to several members of the old PN establishment for supporting his bid to become PN leader has also severely handicapped Bernard Grech’s freedom of action.

Being indebted to several members of the old PN establishment for supporting his bid to become PN leader has also severely handicapped Bernard Grech’s freedom of action. This could be seen when he appointed the new shadow cabinet. Indeed, changes in responsibilities were limited due to the resistance by several established politicians and their supporters that Grech had to face. The polls have amply shown that Bernard Grech badly needs to rejuvenate the Nationalist Party. Given his indebtedness to the old party establishment, this is proving to be a very tough nut to crack for the PN leader. The situation is further complicated by the fact that former leader, Simon Busuttil is still very politically active and retains a certain degree of popularity with Nationalist Party supporters as well as great influence due to his occupying the position of Secretary General of the European People’s Party (EPP).

Bernard Grech has also faced a political backlash due to certain mistakes he has committed: his having a personal history of tax irregularities, failing to pay outstanding taxes for several years; his MEPs’ criticism of Malta in the European Parliament; his politicisation of the COVID-19 pandemic; his “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” approach to various issues, such as Grech’s stance on the cannabis decriminalisation reform when, in order to try and please both those in favour and those against the reform, he did not take a position against decriminalisation but at the same time ridiculed the reform as being simply a vote-catching exercise; his attempt to attract youths to the Nationalist Party and then ridiculing their intelligence with his aforementioned uncalled-for comment on the cannabis decriminalisation reform; and his failure to adequately censure Nationalist MP, Jason Azzopardi for ethical failures.

While Prime Minister and Labour Leader, Robert Abela still faces challenging problems such as restoring Malta’s positive image overseas, halting rampant over-development by the construction industry, and finding a fitting solution with Brussels regarding the perennial problem of irregular migration, Nationalist Party Leader, Bernard Grech’s problems seem to be much more difficult and much more complicated to solve. With the next general election fast approaching, his party is still at a substantial disadvantage compared to the Labour Party.

Grech is fully cognisant of the fact that a very heavy defeat at the next general election could mean the end of his leadership of the Nationalist Party. It is imperative for his survival to at least manage to reduce the gap in votes between his party and the Labour Party. 

Conversely, if Robert Abela manages to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same time continuing to keep the economy strong, while simultaneously introducing new social measures and regaining Malta’s lost international prestige, his path to electoral victory will be assured as well as his consolidation of the leadership of the Maltese nation as Prime Minister and that of the Labour Party.

Both Robert Abela and Bernard Grech face a thoroughly challenging phase of their leadership with the odds being stacked firmly in favour of the Prime Minister and Labour leader due to his impeccable performance to date.

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Saviour Cachia
1 month ago

Artiklu bilancjat. Jifhem l-isfidi li ghandu quddiemu l-Mexxej Laburista Robert Abela, primarjament li jistabilixxi r-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta fix-xena internazzjonali. Qed jahdem qatigh f’din id-direzzjoni…u nawgura lill-Prim Ministru kull kuragg u dehen biex jixxejnu kull effetti negattivi li setghu hallew fuq pajjizna b’dak li rajna jsehh madwarna.

Daniel Mercieca
Daniel Mercieca
1 month ago

Actually I think Delia is better orator then Bernard speaks well. His main problem was a block vote from Traditional Pn voters who did not accepted him. I was more worried about Delia being at helm then Bernard. I think if Delia survived till next Election would have still won the block Pn traditional votes + some others as how way of politics by not always criticising everything but also praising when government does good, his way of debate not by confrontation would have succeeded more.

E Micallef
E Micallef
1 month ago

A very objective comment by Mr Marmara.
One must also mention the shameful manoeuvres in the open played by the establishment’s pn to implant Grech in the driving seat even though he had never been given one single driving lesson in his life and surely without sitting for a driving test.

Paul Micallef
Paul Micallef
1 month ago

I have been voting Labour since 1971. But that doesn’t mean that I accepted all that came out from PL governments all the time. At times there was wrong politics, wrong decisions, abuses, mistakes. But the good thing about the PL, and what make it different from the PN, there is no one with strong control of the Party that can dictate and impose. And the changes are done as the delegates deem fit and although no one is indispensable everyone can work with it. It took the Gozitans and Maltese a long time to realise this. The collapse of the PN was inevitable because it was built differently from that of the PL. The PN is composed and controlled from a handful of conservative families that their first interest is that of their own. The support the PL is enjoying today, I think, is reflected on the basis that the PL always offered better politics and alternatives for our country, though not always explained well, but at the end without foreign and religious interference, are intelligent enough to make the right decision.

Lina Mangion
Lina Mangion
1 month ago

Bernard is a Puppet on a string and he is dependent on what the chiefs tell him to say .

M. Pace.
M. Pace.
1 month ago

In modern political arena any organisation needs to update its agenda & restructure from top to bottom to clear all cob warms from the old guard that its missing from nowadays from P.N. conservative mentality .
Without junvile liberal opinions what its lacking through its party corridors and pass mistakes without eliminating family tendencies which still occupied the top hierarchy.

JJJ
JJJ
1 month ago

There is so much to say about the differences between both leaders. In my opinion the most fundamental one lies in that one is a leader while the other isn’t by any stretch of the imagination. The leader is the captain of the party – the one who has a vision, gives direction and ultimately sees that his/her vision is implemented. The Labour Party has always chosen its leaders wisely and these were always given carte blanche in steering the party into the direction they thought was best for the party and country. The same cannot be said about the Nationalist Party. How can someone prove his/her leadership skills, if the party only wants a ‘face’, a ‘figure head’ as its leader? Isn’t this what has been happening for many years (bar perhaps Dr Delia?) Dr Grech may have his strongpoints, but he is definitely no leader. The questionable manoeuvres that actually put him there and how many non elected interests have their fingers in his pie makes him anything but a leader, let alone a good one. This compounds the problems for the PN – lack of substance and credibility in almost all areas mixed with an exponential dose of arrogance has made the party unelectable. Not even the barrage of panicked gatekeeping from the mainstream media (e.g. the days following a disastrous week for the PN) can limit the sinking rate of the PN ship. Would anyone go on board a ship where the captain is just a figurehead, where sailors backstab each other, risk of a mutiny round every corner and those who are calling all the shots are not even on board the ship? Would you?

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