Paul Boffa entered politics in the context of British colonialism when Malta was granted self government in 1921. He joined the Labour Party in 1923 and was elected leader in 1927. Following World War II, in November 1947 he reached the zenith of his career when he became the first Labour Prime Minister. However, the success was short-lived as the party was infamously split over a series of disagreements between Dr Boffa and his former right-hand man, 33-year-old Dom Mintoff.
Mr Mintoff's often intransigent positions led to a series of Cabinet crises but the straw that broke the camel's back came when Dr Boffa was ready to compromise with the colonial authorities.
Dr Boffa later founded the Malta Workers' Party, which sustained two coalition governments with the Nationalist Party, then led by George Borg Olivier. But the party eventually dissipated, did not contest the 1955 election and in 1955 Dr Boffa resigned for health reasons.
Dom Mintoff, 1949 - 1984
Dom Mintoff re-founded the Labour Party and not only changed its name but its ethos: Shifting the party further towards the Left and entrenching an anti-colonialist vision, which would later translate itself in the link with the non-aligned movement and Mr Mintoff's political brinkmanship style, particularly in his dealings with the Cold War superpowers.
The split initially weakened both parties and only in 1955, after being out of government for three consecutive legislatures, did the Malta Labour Party win the election and Mr Mintoff became Prime Minister.
His primary objective at the time was to negotiate integration with the UK or, alternatively, achieve what was termed as "self determination". Labour's stand, however, led to a deterioration of relations with both the British and, more importantly, with the Catholic Church; a schism which eventually led to interdiction.
The MLP lost the subsequent two elections in 1962 and 1966 and boycotted the Independence celebrations in 1964. However, the party won the 1971 and 1976 elections with a clear majority. In 1981, Labour lost the majority of votes but retained power because it had a majority of seats: A perverse electoral result that ushered in one of the most bitter political crisis in Maltese political history.
Coupled with a turbulent economic situation, widespread allegations of abuse of power, corruption and even state-sponsored violence, the crises of the 1980s confined Labour to the opposition benches in 1987.
Mr Mintoff resigned as party leader in 1984 but not before paving the way for Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici who, in 1982, was appointed leader-designate, co-opted in Parliament and given a ministerial portfolio.
He had been deputy leader since 1980 but was regarded as an outsider.
Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, 1984 - 1992
Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici took over as leader of the Malta Labour Party and Prime Minister on December 22, 1984, succeeding Mr Mintoff who had chosen him as his successor.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici was unchallenged for the post and had been in Mr Mintoff's Cabinet since May 1982. He was a surprise choice - he had been a Catholic Action activist in the 1960s and then became a left-wing ideologue - and Mr Mintoff's decision to put forward an "outsider" to succeed him was seen as a snub to his Cabinet colleagues. Dr Mifsud Bonnici had not even contested the 1981 general election and had to be co-opted to Parliament in May 1982.
As Prime Minister from December 1984 to May 1987, Dr Mifsud Bonnici continued with the same economic, social and foreign policy as his predecessor. The state remained largely involved in the country's economy and the government remained hostile towards Europe and the West in general, even though some attempts were made to mend ties with European countries. Like Mr Mintoff, Dr Mifsud Bonnici was politically very close to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici's stint in government saw a further erosion of civil liberties and the political climate was extremely tense as a result of the 1981 election result that saw the Nationalist Party being denied a parliamentary majority despite netting a majority of votes. The opposition Nationalist Party continued to be harassed and a PN supporter, Raymond Caruana, was shot dead at the PN club in Gudja in December 1986.
At the May 1987 election, Dr Mifsud Bonnici was unable to win back the support the party had lost in the 1981 election and, consequently, Labour was thrown out of office - thanks to a constitutional clause agreed to by both parties a few months earlier guaranteeing majority rule - after 16 years in government.
Dr Mifsud Bonnici remained leader of the Labour Party during the period 1987 - 1992, a period which saw the Nationalist government introduce wide-ranging economic and political reforms and embark on a road towards European Union membership. Dr Mifsud Bonnici remained loyal to his left-wing Old Labour anti-EU beliefs despite Malta's changing political and economic climate and, consequently, the PN was re-elected to office in a landslide victory in the February 1992 general election. He resigned soon after to be succeeded by Alfred Sant and he did not contest the 1996 election.
Alfred Sant, 1992- 2008
Alfred Sant became leader of the Labour Party in March 1992 following the MLP's third consecutive failure to win the majority of votes at a general election. He entered Parliament for the first time as a backbencher in 1987 and, yet, defeated former Labour Cabinet ministers Lino Spiteri and Joe Brincat in the 1992 Labour leadership contest.
As Opposition Leader between 1992 and 1996, Dr Sant rid the party of its violent elements, built a new party headquarters, modernised the party's economic policies and opened up to the middle classes. On one key issue, however, Dr Sant remained firmly entrenched within the party's old position, namely that of Malta's membership of the European Union, which he continued to oppose.
Against the odds, Dr Sant managed to convert a 13,000 PN majority into a 7,000 MLP majority at the 1996 election. For the first time since 1976, Labour had won an absolute majority of votes - largely by pledging to remove VAT once in office and by playing on people's perceptions about corruption and the cost of living - and Dr Sant became Prime Minister.
Dr Sant's Labour government, however, was short-lived and plagued by one crisis after another. His removal of VAT and his decision to freeze Malta's EU application resulted in economic instability as the pro-EU membership lobby grew louder by the day. His Finance Minister, Lino Spiteri, resigned over differences on VAT and the EU. Mr Mintoff was fiercely critical of the government's budget and the Cottonera project. In fact, Dr Sant decided to call an early election, which led to the resignation of his deputy leader for party affairs, George Abela, another serious blow.
The September 1998 election saw the return to office of the Nationalist Party, by a large majority, and Dr Sant went into opposition again. Dr Sant continued to oppose EU membership and refused to recognise the yes victory in the March 2003 EU referendum in which 54 per cent of the electorate supported EU membership for Malta. He consequently lost the April 2003 general election in which EU membership was the main issue. Dr Sant initially opted to resign as party leader but changed his mind a month later. He was challenged in the leadership race by John Attard Montalto and Anġlu Farrugia but was re-elected, despite having lost two consecutive general elections and a referendum.
Although Dr Sant was widely expected to win the 2008 general election, he again lost to the Nationalists, largely because he failed to appeal to voters outside the party, the PN's policies were deemed to be more credible and Dr Sant lacked the charisma and charm of Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi. He announced his resignation the day after the election result was announced.