ivan martin looks at the major political events of the last 12 months, as an election dominated by global crisis marked the end of the road for some and the beginning of a new chapter for others.
The search for muscatel
Malta had barely put up the Christmas lights when a bombshell went off in the political landscape: On January 19, police searched the home of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as part of a major corruption investigation.
The search came later malt times revealed in November how the former prime minister had received 60,000 euros from a company linked to a contract to manage three public hospitals.
News of the search sent an earthquake through the ruling Labor Party.
During the second half of January, Robert Abela was left trying to contain a possible split within the PL as several Labor supporters openly rallied behind Muscat and even questioned how Abela did nothing to try to stop the disgraceful police visit.
Muscat, considered an untouchable after leading the party to successive electoral successes, said the “unnecessary theatrics” was possibly designed to “humiliate” him.
David Thake became the first political casualty of the year, when he resigned from Parliament some four weeks later. malt times reported that one of his companies owed €270,000 of unpaid VAT. Thake insisted that he alone was guilty of a “stupid” clerical error, but that he was resigning to send a message that his and the PN’s standards are higher than those of the Labor Party.
Roberta Metsola makes history
MEP Roberta Metsola made history when she became the first Maltese politician to head an EU institution and the third woman to head the European Parliament when she was elected in January. She will serve in that position until 2024.
She was elected in a landslide victory and her time in office was hailed as a success by international political observers, who say she has brought a new effervescence to what had become a somewhat drab office in Brussels. But just a few weeks ago, one of her vice presidents was arrested on suspicion of money laundering, sparking Metsola’s first crisis.
Will elections be called?
By the second month of the year, speculation about when a general election would be called had reached a fever pitch.
Abela would keep the country in suspense for a few more weeks.
Instead, Robert Abela had some answers to make when malt times reported in February how he had been involved in a shady property deal with a man under investigation for alleged organized crime.
The government came under fire when news broke of plans to develop a yacht marina at Marsascala. Abela had initially said that the project would regenerate the area, but eventually caved to public pressure and declared that the navy’s plans had been cancelled.
Questions about privacy rights were then raised, when opposition leader Bernard Grech accused the Labor Party of flying a drone over his family home.
Abela fires the starting gun
On February 20, Abela finally put an end to weeks of election speculation. He asked the president to dissolve parliament and kicked off a month-long election campaign. The date had been set for March 26.
A mediocre campaign
For the next four weeks, both the PN and PL held daily events, but although promises and regular announcements were made, the campaign lacked the spark and crackle of previous elections, especially as the polls predicted a comfortable Labor victory.
Both sides seemed to have agreed not to engage in subterfuge, trading in the usual name-calling and insults for a much nicer approach.
There was some turbulence in the PN when prominent personalities simultaneously announced that they would not participate in the elections. In what appeared to be a coordinated move, Mario Galea, Kristy Debono, Claudio Grech and Clyde Puli announced they would not be performing.
Meanwhile, former PL leader Joseph Muscat made a comeback when he began endorsing PL candidates during the election campaign.
War overshadows elections
February ended with the shocking Russian invasion of the Ukraine. The slaughter of civilians in Europe’s first war in years dominated the world agenda. What little momentum the Malta election campaign had built up quickly evaporated.
A round of cheeky checks
Returning to the electoral campaign, the government surprised when it delivered a round of tax rebates to households in the middle of an electoral campaign.
The measure was criticized by the opposition as a vote-buying exercise and an abuse of the power of incumbency by the government.
A great victory for Labor
On the day of the count, the Labor Party won the 2022 general election in a landslide, securing a hat-trick of victories and returning Robert Abela to power.
Abela’s Labor Party won 55.1 percent of the popular vote, with a majority of just under 40,000 votes.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the election result was the number of people who chose not to vote.
Voter turnout hovered at around 85 percent, the lowest in 60 years. In the days after the election, both Abela and Grech weighed in on the issue of voter abstention, saying parties needed to do more to keep voters engaged.
Jason Azzopardi loses
Perhaps the most notable name who failed to make it back home was PN parliamentary arsonist Jason Azzopardi.
The outspoken politician had made a name for himself as an anti-corruption activist, regularly speaking out against government wrongdoing.
Failing to even make it to parliament in subsequent informal elections, he took to social media to say that the PN leadership had “deliberately isolated” him.
He would eventually resign from the PN a few weeks later, after a public spat with the party leadership.
a new cabinet
Shortly after his election victory, Abela appointed a cabinet of 18 ministers and four parliamentary secretaries, shuffling some key figures but keeping 11 of his previous ministers in their same posts.
While the three women chosen on the Labor ticket received seats, there was no place for former ministers Edward Zammit Lewis, Michael Farrugia and Carmelo Abela, or junior ministers Alex Muscat, Chris Agius and Deo Debattista.
Other notable changes were former transport minister Ian Borg receiving the foreign policy brief and Rosianne Cutajar remaining in the back pew.
Shadow Cabinet Announced
Shortly after Abela revealed his team, Grech summoned PN deputies to name his shadow cabinet. He handed his predecessor Adrián Delia one of the most prominent positions, making him responsible for transportation, mobility and capital projects in an apparent rapprochement.
Starring in his absence were three party veterans: Mario de Marco, a former minister and shadow finance minister, Chris Said, a former head of Gozo, and Carm Mifsud Bonnici, a former head of foreign affairs.
No challengers to Grech’s leadership
Bernard Grech was re-elected leader of the Nationalist Party at the end of May, without opposition.
With a fragmented party still reeling from a 39,500-vote defeat in the March election, Grech needed to secure a strong mandate to lead the party in the 2024 European Parliament elections.
In the run up to his election, rumors surfaced of a potential protest vote or voter abstention.
He himself had said that anything below 70 percent would be “disappointing.” In the end, he got 81 percent of the vote.
Where is Roberto?
Malta had a quiet summer on the political front, and after a few weeks, questions began to surface about where the prime minister and most of his cabinet were hiding.
Abela was noted for her absence, and reportedly repeatedly traveled out of the country on her personal cabin cruiser. Meanwhile, press conferences and government announcements came to a near standstill. Anger grew as inflation rose.
In the summer, Robert Arrigo, of the PN, was diagnosed with cancer. The former deputy party leader underwent chemotherapy but ultimately lost his battle with the disease in October.
In August, he made a public volley against Bernard Grech, accusing him on Facebook of lying to the public and making his party executive “look like an idiot,” saying the Nationalist Party leader should do the honorable thing and resign.
In a last interview weeks before he died, Arrigo said malt times that the PN had caused her more pain than the cancer she was fighting.
His death was greeted with tributes from both sides of the political camp.
The budget makes the cut
The commitment to spend 600 million euros to cushion price increases dominated the main measures in this year’s budget when it was unveiled in October.
The government focused primarily on low-income people, retirees, and workers struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.
In the pre-budget period, malt times reported how several major investments that had been previously announced had been put on hold as the government diverted most of its efforts to managing the global crisis sparked by the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine.
Abela finally interviewed
In November, Abela finally gave her first interview to malt times. She had stubbornly avoided sitting in independent newsrooms and spent years only answering questions during brief door appearances.
2022 comes to a close with a heated debate over a controversial abortion amendment. Abela intends to go ahead with his plans to introduce reform, but faces the prospect of being the first prime minister to have a president resign under his watch.
The reform will be voted on in the first weeks of 2023, so Abela will start the new year with a big hurdle to overcome.
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