It’s been precisely 50 days since Prime Minister Robert Abela has been sworn in as the country’s new prime minister and he has already left his mark both locally and abroad.
By profession, Dr Robert Abela is a practicing lawyer specialising in labour and industrial law. Although he might be just be a 42-year-old and a first-term lawmaker, the surname Abela is not new to the scene in neither the legal profession or the political political local class. And this observation is of fundamental importance.
While many assume that at this stage the young Dr Robert Abela might have little experience in the political field, he definitely possesses a field of experience to refer to. Dr Robert Abela’s father, Dr George Abela, held the post of Deputy Leader Party Affairs within the the Malta Labour Party. He was instrumental in organising the Labour electoral machine, which immediately led the Labour Party to score its first major electoral victory in 1996. Dr George Abela also held other notable positions such as the top post as President of Malta between April 2009 and April 2014.
Throughout the leadership race, Dr Abela stressed that: “Continuity is important, but change is also needed.” But what does all of this mean for Malta?
Working Towards a “Full Democracy”
Dr Robert Abela is in for a difficult task. Difficult not because Malta is not a full democracy as a few would love to depict, but because since the Labour Party’s return to power, as is characteristic with Labour, many changes came along.
Maltese people, albeit many do not admit it, are highly traditional and take long to change their habits and manners. Also the Maltese archipelago is rather small but densely populated, which brings about another tradition trait: that whereby everybody knows everybody and everyone bumps into everyone on a daily basis. This definitely collides with the continental ideas and cultures which are exposed to space and anonymity.
With this backdrop, the honeymoon period was well and truly over for Prime Minister Abela — changes have already been implemented and we are to expect even more changes in the future.
The greatest challenge came about following all the evidence that has recently come to light in the murder investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia as a consequence of which, the Economist Intelligence Unit has relegated Malta to a ‘flawed democracy’. Naturally, this has tarnished Malta’s name, considering only four other countries in Western Europe are deemed as such.
Prime Minister Abela is confident with his plan of action and together with his cabinet, they are working towards clearing Malta’s name, to once again be classed as ‘a full democracy’.
“The priority of my government is to carry out the needed institutional changes: reforms in the area of the rule of law, which we intend to continue doing and reforms in the way the judiciary is appointed. We’ve started with a reform in the method for appointing the police commissioner. I think this is a very strong reform and we will keep building on it.”
The Largest and Youngest Cabinet to Date
With 26 MPs – the prime minister, 17 Ministers and 8 parliamentary secretaries PM Abela has set a new record for the largest cabinet yet. Evidently, some of the most important roles have also been given to young politicians. Is this a better step in the right direction? Only time will tell, but so far Dr Abela seemed to have made wise decisions to leave out those who are said to have skeletons in their closet.
Reforming the Malta Police Force
We have also seen the resignation of Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar— another step in the right direction. Along with his new cabinet, Dr Abela has promised to do things differently and more transparently when appointing Police Commissioners by effecting recommendations presented by the Venice Commission. Additionally, Dr Abela believes there is room for improvement with regard to the Malta Police Force. While he values the work that has been done throughout the years, Malta can benefit from a complete reformation.
Building Bridges with Civil Society Groups
Dr Abela has also reached out to a number of civil society groups who have been at the front lines in the fight against corruption. He instructed the people in charge to stop clearing out the makeshift memorial in Valletta, following the vigils of the 16th day of the month. While some applauded him, others believe that they shouldn’t be singing his praises for their right to protest. Whatever his intentions may be, this is a better solution to bridge the gap between government and civil society groups.
A Pro-Life Stance
Prime Minister Robert Abela didn’t shy away from voicing his opinion regarding controversial issues such as abortion making it very clear that it would not happen under his watch.
Prostitution Should no Longer Remain a Crime
Abela has also made an important statement with regard to prostitution. While he believes it should no longer remain a crime, things should be strategised for those who choose to work in this field. More help should also be provided in order for them to seek a better life.
So is Prime Minister Robert Abela the change Malta needs? Only time will tell.