Opinion: True populism

“The PN is a populist party focused only on spreading negativity”, Prime Minister Robert Abela said in one of his most populist speeches ever,  shamelessly accusing the opposition of being populist. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

“No to foreigners who are not needed”, “Foreign workers who do not respect Maltese laws will be deported”, and “Malta is full-up” are all Abela’s statements. 

Abela is a walking textbook of populism, ticking all the boxes in the populist identification parade.

“Irregular migrants might have their reasons for crossing the sea, but our position is clear that we are full up”, Abela once commented.

We can also mention comments from Alfred Grixti, his CEO at the Foundation for Social Welfare and former Zebbug Labour Party mayor, that the “Government should impound rescue vessels and scuttle them”.  

Abela’s social solidarity Minister, Michael Falzon, defended Grixti, declaring that “the comment was made in Grixti’s personal capacity”, stating that he “felt that he (Grixti) was misunderstood”. Abela also wasn’t bothered by Grixti’s extreme views either, staying silent on his populist rhetoric. 

More recently, just three months ago, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana stated during his budget speech, “When people are found disrespecting our rules, we enforce by returning hundreds of individuals to their country of origin.”

“While other countries are drowning in migrants, Malta isn’t”, Caruana commented. When Abela was asked about Caruana’s distasteful comments, he defended him: “God forbid we had to heed advice given to us on migration”.

Byron Camilleri, another of Abela’s ministers, uploaded multiple posts with photos of black migrants handcuffed and being escorted by police officers with populist captions, such as “Authorities are attacking irregular migration”. In one of Camilleri’s most shocking photos, a police officer grabs a hand-cuffed black migrant by the arm as he stands drenched in heavy rain in his sandals.

Abela never condemned Camilleri for his shocking populism either, but that’s not surprising – because Abela is the biggest populist of all.

Populists are easily identified through five key characteristics. First, they keep referring to “the people” and consider “the people” as one cohesive unit with identical views that match their own.  They claim that only they know and understand “the people”. 

That’s Abela for you – “a government of the people with the people”, he commented in his Mosta speech, mentioning “the people” over 30 times during his one speech.

Secondly, populists claim that “the others” (“huma”), referring collectively to the opposition, civil society organisations and the independent media, tirelessly work against the interests of “the people”. 

Abela repeatedly accused the PN of trying to disrupt his good work, portraying them as out of touch, unlike him.  He bragged he’d been at Dar tal-Providenza, he’d spoken to a Hamrun resident, he’d been in Marsa – he is in touch with the people, he feels the people’s pain.

The PN is negative and only interested in “sowing division, negativity and partisanship”. 

“They (the others) often speak against solutions, they are not interested in solutions”.  While Abela worked to get Malta off the greylist in record time, the opposition was “writing letters to defame us and keep us in it”.

Thirdly, populists stir up fear and insecurity, they warn of the dangers posed by “the others”, portraying them as unpatriotic traitors and a danger to the country. Abela claimed the opposition tried to disrupt his price capping scheme, criticising the scheme intended to help “the people”.

He warned his audience not to trust the PN because they promote populism that will only destroy the people’s quality of life. “They have no interest in offering solutions to the pain and problems of ‘the people’”.

Fourthly, populists reduce complex social issues to the most extreme simplification, implying that only they can resolve those problems. Abela boasted in his speech of his successes (is-successi).  He bragged that he faced the pandemic, the Ukraine war and now the Gaza conflict – and always found solutions. 

He declared Labour the party of solutions while “the others” were too busy fighting among themselves.  

Finally, populists have one charismatic leader who imposes the will of “the people” against all obstacles and protects them from alleged dangers threatening their way of life.

That was Abela’s central theme: It was he who overcame all adversities to protect the people; he was the one who defied everybody’s advice about energy subsidies, and he alone will continue to defy even the International Monetary Fund to ensure “the people” won’t carry the burden.  He alone negotiated his price stabilisation pact, and only he reached an agreement with importers and supermarkets – he spoke to them one by one and managed to protect “the people” from the rising cost of living.

Robert Abela is a populist and a threat to democracy. Instead of embracing pluralism, the basis of a functioning liberal democracy, he portrays dissenting opinions as treason.

He accuses others of being divisive as he seeks to divide and calls others negative while sowing fear. But above all, he berates others as populists while exploiting populism for his own personal gain.


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Amanda Garzia
Amanda Garzia
2 months ago

An excellent analysis of psychological projection, a predilection which, in this kind of scenario, is unedifying as well as grimly polarizing.

2 months ago

The people are tired of listening to lies and twisted words. . They let in everyone without checking who they were and that is why we had of sorts of people around some under false names and even Mafia people working here. How is this, is there any checking ? There are agencies set to bring workers from abroad . A nurse I knew was charged 10K for coming to Malta promising her a work permit and citizen ship. Then she had to work to repay the loan and finally she left and went to UK for a better pay and accommodation. as she felt badly cheated. .I am sorry like many she believed all the hog wash she was told.

2 months ago

Given that Joseph Muscat is considered the ‘most sinister’ PM of Malta in history since the awful days of Dom Mintoff, Rober Abela is the one who still repeats the lessons learned from his master. He still hasn’t become a PM of his own and it looks that way that he never will.

All Abela says has been said by Muscat years ago. Whether it is about foreign workers not respecting Maltese law, refugees, the other platitudes regarding ‘government of the people with the people’, it doesn’t make any difference. One hears the voice of Robert Abela uttering the phrases of Joseph Muscat.

The PLers, high and low, always have the habit to paint the PN the ‘negative’ party and by that, deliberately trying to deflect from the very fact that all the negativities which are that eyesoaring obvious in Malta, are fairly and squarely the result of the PL’s own politics since 2013.

Nobody outside the PL bubble believes even a single word of these worn out propaganda phrases. But what the PL demonstrates relentlessly is the simple fact that toxic populism isn’t a matter of the political spectrum, whether it is a party of a right-wing or left-wing leaning. It always goes with the person who leads the party itself and thus the government.

The PL likes to find itself at the political centre, often like a pendulum going from right to left, back and forth but the magnet that keeps it moving is at the centre and has a word that also starts with the letter C. The very ‘centre’ that is still giving, to all those ‘happy people’ on ‘Planet PL’.

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