There is only one unknown about the upcoming general election in Malta – the margin of the Labour Party victory. For years, successive polls have shown Labour leading comfortably, with the gap over the Nationalist Party remaining wide despite the monumental political scandals that have weighed the country down. Likewise, Robert Abela enjoys a wide lead over Bernard Grech in the trust ratings.

The visit of Pope Francis to Malta in early April has fuelled speculation that the election will be called in March, yet Abela keeps his cards to his chest, telling journalists the poll will be called by June.

While it is the prime minister’s prerogative to decide the election date, it is becoming more important for the country’s well-being to hold it at the first available opportunity. And there are a number of reasons for this.

Electoral campaigns in Malta have historically always led to a business slowdown, with many operators preferring to “wait and see” before taking certain business decisions, market their products and services, or even recruit.

Why this is happening even when the electoral outcome is almost a foregone conclusion is anyone’s guess, but speak to most businesses and they will tell you they have already started holding back until the election is done and dusted. Political upheaval has never been conducive to good business.

Abela might have had his own good reasons not to call the election last November on grounds that businesses deserved to capitalise off the festive season. But postponing it until June, till the very end of the legislature, risks dealing the death knell to businesses living in a state of animated suspension for way too long.

Though COVID-19 numbers remain high, there is growing scientific evidence showing the severity of the virus is waning. The government has rightly reduced COVID measures and is not excluding eliminating further restrictions in the coming weeks. This gives a rare opportunity for electioneering to take place without excessive restrictions.

Ultimately, Malta desperately needs to see a new parliament, with MPs who have repeatedly shamed their country, their party and their honour, booted out of the House through democratic means. But we’re not holding our breath.

If Abela is to kickstart a new term to deliver his own vision and not be hamstrung by Joseph Muscat’s legacy, he needs a parliamentary group with a number of new faces. In the last two years, Abela has had his predecessor hanging like a noose around his neck, as his administration remains tainted with some of the biggest scandals of our generation and the murder of a journalist that will forever haunt the country. 

Couple that with the pandemic which struck just weeks from his surprise election, Abela must be looking forward to turning over a new leaf.

And once a new parliament is in place, it is worth contemplating the introduction of a fixed-term election mechanism in our political system, where a government will run for a fixed five-year term and not for a period decided solely by the prime minister. 

Pending any political upheavals, introducing such a system would do away with the electoral uncertainty which always brings the country to a halt.

It would also eliminate the possibility of the prime minister choosing the electoral date specifically for political advantage rather than the interests of society at large. We had fixed terms for several years with the local elections, and there is no reason why we cannot have the same process for a general election.

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