Robert Abela was in damage control mode on Thursday after a police raid on the home of Joseph Muscat caused an internal earthquake in the Labour Party.
The prime minister was left trying to contain a potential split within the party as several Labour supporters openly rallied behind Muscat and even questioned how Abela did nothing to try to stop the embarrassing police visit.
“It is the worst nightmare for any politician to be dealing with a former leader who has reached cult status. It’s enough to see the comments on social media. Muscat is seen as untouchable by thousands of people,” one Labour MP told Times of Malta.
Abela summoned a number of Labour MPs and ministers to his office at Auberge de Castille in small groups throughout the day to help get the message across to their constituents that they should remain “calm and serene” and that the party was united.
It followed calls made openly on social media by Labour’s One TV chairman Jason Micallef and radio presenter, Emanuel Cuschieri, appealing to the Labour faithful to take to the streets to support the former prime minister. Sources said they were also expected to be called in by Abela over their social media posts.
In a post uploaded on Wednesday evening, Micallef, who also heads Valletta Cultural Agency, said “the time for Labourites to get out there and raise their voices in the streets has arrived – and how”.
Cuschieri also posted on Facebook showing his loyalty to the former party leader: “Message to Joseph Muscat. You will never stand alone. Just call me and you’ll find me by your side. I know I won’t be alone because with me there will be thousands.”
The two wrote their messages after the Burmarrad home of the former prime minister was raided at 7am on Wednesday in relation to the ongoing investigation into the Vitals Global Healthcare deal.
Micallef said on Thursday evening Abela had not asked him to remove any posts: “I wholeheartedly trust the prime minister while standing shoulder to shoulder with Joseph Muscat.”
Muscat’s personal phone, as well as the phones of his wife and daughters, were confiscated by officers.
Addressing the party faithful in a video posted to Facebook, Muscat said that after his birthday weekend, he would address his supporters, a message that has sparked speculation he could contest the election.
Various Labour MPs who spoke to Times of Malta on condition of anonymity confirmed they had been summoned to Castille and told to spread the word among their constituents that everything was fine within the party and that they should remain calm.
One of them said Abela was doing his utmost to hold his team together in a “very embarrassing” situation. “There are the rabble-rousers who think Abela could have done something to stop this,” the MP said.
“Muscat sent a very clear message through his videoed message on Wednesday. He is not ruling out a return to politics. And what does Abela do if Muscat insists on contesting the upcoming election? Can he afford to turn him down?”
Another MP said the raid and “fanfare” created outside Muscat’s home were “unacceptable”, especially the seizure of his daughters’ mobile phones. He added that it could be part of a wider plan to tarnish the Labour government and to create internal tension ahead of the election.
Another MP said many fellow MPs were angry that the party was “allowing people who hate Labour dictate the agenda and humiliate one of its own people”.
He said he and other MPs expected the party to stick up for the former leader and denounce the actions of the police. Nobody could say who was behind the plan to “tarnish” the government.
One party source said Muscat played the “victim card” perfectly on Wednesday and managed to rally support among his supporters while sounding a warning to the Labour leadership that they can ill-afford to ditch him.
“All we know is that this has caused political damage to the Labour Party. I’m sure we’ll contain the fallout but it’s not going to be easy, especially for Abela.”
In an interview with Times of Malta last August, Muscat did not rule out a return to politics.
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