There is no manual for running a nation. But Robert Abela will be on a steep learning curve this week as he takes over the reins of both country and party as prime minister and Labour leader.
One person who has seen a prime minister operate up close during his first week in office is Gordon Pisani, who went on to become head of communications between 2008 and 2013, the last five years of Lawrence Gonzi’s tenure.
The political decisions that need to be taken in the first week, he told Times of Malta, would be based on one’s principles and vision for the country. And one of the first challenges would be to make them sound and in a short space of time.
Those decisions include appointing a whole new government.
“The decisions taken in the first few days are imperative. The prime minister needs to take into consideration how the skills and knowledge of the people he appoints will fit in with his vision,” Mr Pisani said.
Decisions like who will form the new Cabinet and which responsibilities will be assigned to each of the ministries and parliamentary secretariats. In fact, the first few days could be quite emotional for prospective ministers – all waiting for that call from the prime minister to be given their new portfolio.
Another priority for the new prime minister would be to take stock of the situation and set priorities for the public sector.
A new prime minister would also expect an avalanche of requests for media interviews but he will also need to make time for meetings with ambassadors, setting the Cabinet and parliamentary agendas, planning for European Council meetings and bilateral meetings, while also fulfilling his duties as party leader.
For Kurt Farrugia – a veteran head of communications under Joseph Muscat between 2013 and 2019 – the first week is one of the most, if not the most, hectic throughout the whole legislature.
For one, the communications team receives a barrage of interview requests from the media, he said, echoing Mr Pisani’s experience.
This was especially true for the 2013 legislature, he recalled, when Malta elected a new prime minister. But it was also true in 2017, when international media closely followed the parties’ electoral campaigns and the election weekend.
Still reeling from the campaign, the communications team did not even have time for a celebratory drink when the election result came out – they get down to business straightaway.
And they would have to start from scratch, even for the 2017 legislature, as all contracts would have been terminated, people would have relinquished their posts and offices would have been cleared.
The “marathon” continues after the swearing-in, with one of the first duties for the prime minister being the appointment of a new Cabinet of ministers.
The first hours are “frantic but exciting”. The first couple of days of the 2013 legislature were especially fraught for Mr Farrugia: he and two other people responsible for Labour’s communications had to make the mental switch from being party mouthpieces to government spokespersons.
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