It is becoming increasingly obvious that both the Labour and Nationalist parties are starting to draw their electoral battle lines.

Labour won the 2017 and 2013 elections hands down. Its return to power in 2013 was widely expected, though not many would have forecast it would enjoy such a landslide victory.

In May 2017, Joseph Muscat called a snap election for the following month, a year before it was due, saying that allegations about corruption were instilling uncertainty in the economy. Few doubted he would not win again though not as handsomely as 2013. Muscat had lost none of his shine and the Nationalist Party suffered another humiliating defeat.

Nothing could have prepared Muscat and the country for the months to follow. They proved to be a turning point in Muscat’s political career, surprising even the superstitious, as the country saw an intricate web of corruption and national plunder unravelling against the backdrop of murder.

It has since emerged that Daphne Caruana Galizia had become so inconvenient to a greedy consortium of evil, possibly assured of impunity, that a price on her head had been set. Her assassination was put on hold until after the election and she was blown up in a car bomb just four-and-a-half months later. It was a grave mistake, for her assassination unleashed a civil society ‘uprising’ that helped bring about Muscat’s downfall.

And it is against this background that the upcoming election must be viewed. Can Labour be trusted again? But is the Nationalist Party in a position to govern?

A voter who truly goes by what his mind advises rather than be dictated by the heart, even if still among a minority in this tiny polarised island, will argue that too many mortal sins have been committed by Labour. It allowed a climate where corruption flourished, in turn leading to a journalist’s murder. Justice needs to be done politically too, such voters will deliberate before deciding that their conscience will not allow them to vote Labour.

By elimination, that leaves the Nationalist Party as the only alternative, given that third parties have sadly not gained a foothold among the electorate. Still, many remain wary of the ‘old’ elements and traits within the PN. Can the Nationalist Party bring anything ‘new’ to the table?

Corruption, the economy and the pandemic are likely to be the three main issues on which the next election will be fought. But there are other matters that ought to preoccupy the electorate too, such as abysmal standards in public life, the disastrous state of the environment, the way Malta keeps being sold to the highest bidder and the fact that political and criminal accountability remain  largely illusory. Labour fails miserably in these instances. Do the institutions truly work?

One determining factor, of course, will be the trust enjoyed by both leaders.

Bernard Grech has been performing well in opinion polls and has been making inroads. In contrast, Robert Abela has suffered, certainly in relation to his predecessor who, to be fair, bequeathed him a poisoned chalice, as he struggled to deal with a pandemic.

Grech must, therefore, move fast to bring about the much-desired regeneration within his party and urge the albatrosses around its neck to call it a day. He must also come up with so-called ‘bread-and-butter’ initiatives which remain ever so important to the Maltese voter.

Judging by the way he has been defending his erring colleagues, it is evident Abela is, at best, unable to clean up his mess. He continues to refuse to make a meaningful apology accompanied by drastic action to engage in a proper clean-up of his party.

The next election should not be seen as business as usual.

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