Audio: Why did Abela win the PL leadership election?

Robert Abela - Chris Fearne - Edward Scicluna

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Robert Abela, who used to be just a Labour Party backbencher, managed to beat Chris Fearne, who had served as Joseph Muscat’s Deputy Prime Minister, because he focused completely on the party members instead of the whole nation.

Anthropologist and Columnist Ranier Fsadni said this during a discussion on Abela’s campaign for the PL leadership election during The Newsbook Hour on 103 Malta’s Heart. The discussion also look at the first few days as Prime Minister of Malta . The discussion was led by Fr Joe Borg, together with Peppi Azzopardi.

Asked for his first reactions, Fsadni said that during the election campaign Abela used measured words seeking the trust of delegates. He used the word ‘continuity’ a lot but eventually explained that continuity also means change. He went on to say that Abela had a very good grasp of what he called the ‘persuasion technique’. This is a well-known technique whereby someone gains someone else’s trust by showing them that they are on the same page, and after that convince them change their point of view.

On the other hand, Peppi Azzopardi likened the campaign to the 1996 elections. He explained that similarly to the Nationalist Party at the time, Fearne spoke like he was already elected. Abela, on the other hand, chose to speak to the supporters. This was the same thing that Alfred Sant had done at the time, and exactly how he had snatched the win right from under the PN’s noses.

Azzopardi went on to say that Abela had a total disregard of what was being said outside the sphere of party supporters, since he sought their vote and not acceptance from the outside world. He explained that in the last few weeks running up to the election, Muscat was yet again elevated to the image of hero by his party and followers, and when Abela saw that, he started speaking about continuing Muscat’s work and mentioning repeatedly how he remained loyal to Muscat till the very end. Being that the supporters did not want Muscat to leave, they opted for the choice that to them appeared to be the closest to Muscat, someone that is still young and has a young family, and so they chose Abela.

A man of symbolic actions

Speaking about the first week of Abela as Prime Minister, Fsadni said that one can only judge on the symbolic actions of Abela. He explained that he didn’t have much time to do more than what he’s already done in just a few days.

Fsadni said that one of the main things one needs to be aware of with Abela as Prime Minister is the way in which he speaks. He said that while people might think they’re understanding one thing, Abela’s words might mean something completely different.

Fsadni said that Abela’s changes within the Cabinet have all been done with reason, except maybe one, where he decided to keep the Armed Forces of Malta as part of the portfolio of the Ministry for Internal Affairs. Fsadni said that every Minister that had any allegations or court cases that could go against them, except Edward Scicluna, was left out of the Cabinet or was given another portfolio. He went on to explain that while before the election, Abela was saying there aren’t that many problems with the Rule of Law in Malta, the actions he has taken so far show us otherwise.

From his end, Azzopardi said that it was not Abela that changed following the election, but it was his audience that changed. He explained that while before his audience was purely the party members eligible to vote, now his audience is the whole nation. Azzopardi said that had he mentioned before the election that he would order that the cleansing of the Daphne Caruana Galizia’s makeshift memorial stops, the party followers would have been much more sceptical on whether to cast their vote for him or not.

Daphne was demonised by the PL media

Speaking about Abela’s decision on the makeshift memorial, Fsadni said that the previous government used to order its cleansing only to prevent any arguments and fights that might erupt. “It was scared becoming increasingly scared by the reaction of some of its own supporters,” Fsadni explained. He went on to say that this was their way of controlling public order. Nonetheless, he said that this does not justify the action. He went on to say that the only reason why all of this happened, was because Daphne Caruana Galizia was demonised by the Labour Party Media.

On the same topic, Azzopardi mentioned that a lot of labour party followers have been misinformed about Caruana Galizia’s writing. He noted that while she had written blogs that might not have passed the nicest of comments, there are people quoting passages that she never actually wrote and attributing them to her. Case in point he mentioned that people are quoting Caruana Galizia saying that she wishes that Labour Party followers have beautiful children and then they all die of cancer. Azzopardi insisted that Caruana Galizia never said this. He explained that due to such misinformation, people go on to say that she deserved to be killed. “You can’t demonise a person and then expect people to agree with you when you allow the makeshift memorial to stay in place,” Azzopardi said.

Fsadni said that this brings up the question of who started off this fake news, and how is it that half of Malta has heard this news and half hasn’t. He mentioned how part of the local media is a bearer of fake news.