The art of political leadership is a battle for the hearts and minds. A leader must have the force of character to inspire others to follow him with confidence. Force of character in a leader comes through knowing what he wants to do and having the determination and courage to do it in a way that inspires confidence.

Robert Abela appears to have passed the first test: winning the Labour leadership election. Now comes the far harder part: taking over as prime minister at a time of political tumult and a legacy from Joseph Muscat of shattered citizens’ trust in the leadership, good faith and honesty of their government.

What is to be expected of him? Last week we set out his job description. Malta has to turn over a new leaf. The new prime minister has to vow to carry out reforms to clean up politics. He must eradicate the era of putting party before country. He must fulfil his pledge to work for unity, reaching out to people across the political spectrum. He should wield a “big broom to sweep away corruption and cronyism”. He must have the strength of principle to put a stop to impunity even if this risks his predecessor, and his predecessor’s aide, ending up in the dock.

Dr Abela takes over a government fortified by six years of rapid economic growth and more of it forecast.

Malta does not need a prime minister who turns the civil service into a recruitment agency to boost employment. It needs one who seeks real social justice, ends economic short-termism and stops selling the country to the highest bidder. It needs a leader who stops appeasing big business while ignoring the common worker, who can put the brakes on unbridled construction and fully safeguard Malta’s heritage and the natural environment.

But Dr Abela, who pitched himself as the candidate of continuity, has a difficult balancing act to perform. On one hand, between the imperatives of implementing wide-ranging constitutional and institutional changes and re-establishing the values of good governance and the rule of law; on the other, the natural inclination of PL members to expect continued preferential treatment, including through nepotism, cronyism and clientelism. 

However, the balance between national priorities and party priorities should not be a zero-sum game. Restoring Malta’s battered international image through overdue constitutional and institutional change, and introducing good governance, social justice and meritocracy, benefits everybody in society. It will lift national morale from the nadir to which it has sunk and restore a sense of pride, fairness, probity and well-being.

Finding this balance will test both Dr Abela’s personal resilience and the nation’s goodwill. It will make or break his premiership. He needs everyone on his side. He must set out his priorities and plan of action clearly, and he cannot continue ignoring the questions put forward by the independent press.

The whole country needs to know exactly what he stands for. Malta has a new prime minister and many still do not know his stand on several issues.That’s up to Dr Abela to explain. From today, he must prove to all citizens that he is his own man and that PL members did not just elect the ‘anointed one’. 

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