From PN candidates abandoning ship on day one to Robert Abela’s villa in Żejtun, here’s a look back at some of the key moments from the election campaign.
1. PN candidates withdraw on first day
The Nationalist Party started off its fledgling campaign on the back foot.
The headlines on the first morning of the campaign were dominated by the news that Clyde Puli, Kristy Debono and Mario Galea had all made the eleventh-hour decision not to contest the election.
Claudio Grech, who oversaw the PN’s manifesto, also announced during a campaign event that same evening that he too would not be throwing his hat in the ring.
Putting a positive spin on things, PN leader Bernard Grech said all four former candidates made way as they understood his desire to regenerate the party and create space for new faces.
Galea, who would go on to address a Labour event, had a less positive take on things.
“It was my decision to resign…they made my life hell,” Galea said, claiming he had faced bullying within the party due to his mental health issues.
2. All hail the king… Joseph Muscat puts in cameo
Former Labour leader Joseph Muscat set tongues wagging after hitting the unofficial campaign trail within a week of his successor firing the starter pistol.
Muscat put in appearances at fringe political events, endorsing Labour candidates like Glenn Bedingfield, Chris Agius and Deo Debattista, who all held roles in Muscat’s government.
Many chanted “Joseph, Joseph” and “viva l-Labour” as they tried to take pictures with the former prime minister during a walkabout Muscat carried out in Vittoriosa with Bedingfield.
A Times of Malta poll taken at the time showed one-third of Labour voters prefer Muscat as their leader.
Throughout the campaign, Abela had always been reluctant to comment on whether Muscat would put in any official appearances at Labour events.
Asked repeatedly about whether his predecessor would be invited to speak at rallies being organised by the PL, Robert Abela dodged reporters’ questions.
Muscat ultimately ended up staying away from any headline Labour events but his shadow still looms large over Abela.
3. A villa in Żejtun
The bargain-basement price paid by Robert Abela for his Żejtun villa 2,200sq.m in 2017 became a major talking point during the campaign.
Questions were raised about whether the prime minister had used his influence during his days as a Planning Authority lawyer to land himself the bargain by pushing through sanctioning permits.
When quizzed about the matter, Abela replied: The opposition leader “illegally built” his villa.
His claim had the desired effect to a certain extent, diverting attention and putting Bernard Grech on the defensive right up until the final debate between the two leaders last Wednesday.
Times of Malta would also go on to reveal how Abela let two Russians use the Żejtun address to fulfil the residency requirements under the passports scheme, without verifying if they were actually living at the villa he rented out to them.
4. PN trackless…bendy bus?
One of the standout proposals from the PN’s manifesto was for a €2.8 billion trackless tram system to ferry people around the island.
The proposal was soon ripped apart by Labour, which latched onto the fact that the trackless tram looked suspiciously like a very long bendy bus, of the type that snarled up Malta’s roads during the last PN administration.
The Nationalist Party didn’t do itself any favours either, with PN candidates Ryan Callus and Toni Bezzina offering contradictory statements about how the tram would operate.
5. Mandatory unionisation, or not
Labour’s 1,000 proposals contained an emphatic declaration about introducing mandatory unionisation for all workers under a PL government.
Employers were extremely unhappy with the proposal, and no sooner had the ink dried on the manifesto, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana found himself busy redefining what ‘mandatory’ means.
“I do not think the proposal will result in 100 per cent worker unionisation rates. Rather, it will facilitate the process for workers who were hesitant to join a union due to potential repercussions from their employers,” Caruana told employers during a Chamber of Commerce debate.
During another chamber event two days later, Robert Abela continued with the flexible definition of ‘mandatory’.
Abela told the chamber that workers would still have the right to refuse to join a union, and the proposal would be discussed more in-depth with social partners if Labour is re-elected.
6. Activist/ blogger targeted on Labour billboard
Former PN functionary and candidate turned blogger Manuel Delia found himself splashed over a Labour billboard during the campaign.
The billboard in question featured Delia’s face alongside various Nationalist Party figures, and was roundly condemned both locally and overseas by international press organisations.
Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had also featured in Labour propaganda before she was killed in 2017, raising questions about whether Labour’s commitment to break from the past and atone for the journalist’s killing.
Abela sidestepped questions about the targeting of Delia by saying the billboard in question had been taken down and replaced by another with another “more important message”.
7. The election that COVID forgot
Supporting Labour or PN appeared to be the best possible vaccine against COVID-19, judging by the plethora of packed events organised during the five-week campaign.
The double standards understandably enraged event organisers, who are still hamstrung by social distancing requirements.
The Malta Entertainment Industry and Arts Association decried what it described as the “ongoing discrimination” against events’ organisers.
Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci, always one to shy away from controversy, simply appealed for responsibility “from everyone” when asked about the political rallies and lack of adherence with COVID-19 regulations.
Health Minister Chris Fearne, who has been present at many of the packed Labour events, acknowledged a spike in cases during the campaign.
Fearne put the increase in cases down to a subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus strain, increased “social mobility” and cold weather.