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No bridge over troubled waters

Robert Abela in a photo op with a group of soldiers guarding migrants on lockdown at the Hal Far open centre. Photo: Facebook

Robert Abela’s rise to power was quite an easy task. He was backed by Joseph Muscat and his wife as well as most of the old guard grassroots at the Glass Palace in Hamrun – they could not risk the new start that Chris Fearne promised, so they opted for the safer ‘continuity candidate. And they succeeded.

The first month was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Photo opportunities galore using Muscat’s tried and tested tactics, with a hand on heart approach and telling his fans ‘I love you all’.

The first few days held promise. He kept Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi out of his Cabinet, he fired the Police Commissioner (albeit handing Lawrence Cutajar a lucrative consultancy) and stopped some of the ‘bought for silence’ consultancies.

Then COVID-19 struck. Suddenly, Abela found himself in a tight spot. He had to make decisions; tough decisions. He had a pandemic to face and he needed to steer the nation through troubled waters. And that showed one and all his limitations.

He started by mishandling the assistance packages, which were immediately shot down by unions and employers. Then he had second thoughts and offered yet another ‘incentives packet‘ that he claimed was worth nearly €2 billion. The real amount was, in fact, closer to €350 million.

Meanwhile, he resisted calls for a lockdown. He kept the airport and ports open against the advice of health professions. His ‘I’m the boss’ attitude exposed his insecurity and his ties to the previous administration. But it must have been a coincidence that he only shut down flights only after Muscat returned to Malta from one of his secretive ventures abroad.

He surpassed himself by telling people to go out for a walk or a jog after the Health Minister and the Superintendent for Public Health advised everybody to self-quarantine. Then he opened the spring hunting season: ‘Take that. I’ll show you who’s the boss’.

Abela has yet to convince himself he’s prime minister, but he’s still struggling to convince his base that he’s their leader. He insists on addressing the nation as a partisan Prime Minister, at times on a partisan TV station with the Labour Party flag behind him.

Last Friday’s press conference, a dedicated attack on civil society organisation Repubblika, proved that beyond doubt. His speech was partisan. It incited hate and fuelled racism. He was the proverbial drama queen. It was an act with a very clear purpose. He then used information in the public interest to attack those who insist on holding power to account – a necessity in a democracy.

Being wet behind the ears is no excuse. Abela has shown that he is incapable of leading a nation. His father would do well to advise him.

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