When Robert Abela was elected leader of the Labour Party and became Malta’s prime minister he removed Chris Cardona from his cabinet post as Minister for Economic Affairs. But Cardona retained his position as deputy leader for party affairs, presumably because this post requires a vote by party members.

The role of deputy leader of the Labour Party is uniquely peculiar.

Whereas the deputy leader for parliamentary affairs automatically becomes deputy prime minister, there seems to be no real job description for the deputy leader for party affairs.

It seems designed to enable the party leader (and prime minister, if in government) to retain a link with the party faithful and party officials. It may also have a use in placating the different political wings of any modern party. 

Cardona took over from Konrad Mizzi in 2016. As one examines the roll-call of previous deputy leaders for party affairs, you have to go back to the period 1992-1998, when George Abela (father of the present prime minister and President of Malta), filled the post to find anybody of real distinction.

Despite its intrinsic shortcomings, it remains politically important for Labour, as the party in government, to have somebody filling the appointment who does not bring it into disrepute. But, divested of his cabinet appointment, this is what Cardona does.    

Cardona’s fall from grace began when the late Daphne Caruana Galizia exposed one of the more squalid political stories of her career, reporting that he had visited a brothel while on official business in Germany as minister for the economy.

It was an allegation which Cardona vehemently denied.

Last year, Cardona briefly suspended himself as economy minister after his name featured in police investigations into the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

Since then, his name has increasingly been mentioned by various sources linking him with individuals who are now the subject of the charges against the three alleged perpetrators of the murder, as well as the alleged mastermind behind the operation, Yorgen Fenech.

The self-confessed middleman, Melvin Theuma, who is currently giving evidence, has indicated that Cardona’s name was frequently mentioned by Fenech.

It is one of the more explosive deve-lopments in the case recently, perhaps rivalled only by claims that the former police commissioner was passing on information to the middleman.

While it would be wrong in this murky affair to draw conclusions about Cardona’s supposed involvement, it remains the case that, politically, the fact that he remained PL deputy leader was an embarrassment to the party and the government and a poor reflection of Abela’s grip and leadership at a time of national emergency. For the past few days, the prime minister said he was “convinced Cardona would take the necessary decisions in the coming days about his role as Labour deputy leader”.

At best it was a cop-out, at worse it exposes him to charges of weakness in confronting the many unsavoury issues inherited from Joseph Muscat.

Among the qualities required of a successful prime minister – and a leader in any walk of life – is the courage to take difficult decisions, including the capacity to wield the “axe” when needed.

The prime minister yesterday said he had spoken to Cardona and communicated his wish that he no longer remains PL deputy leader. Until last night, Cardona had made no official comment.

When the process starts to elect a new deputy leader, the least the PL delegates can do is ensure they do not vote in any unsavoury characters with baggage.

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