Malta’s Parliament has undergone a radical transformation since 2017, with unelected officials, which include Leaders of the Opposition and the Prime Minister’s inner circle, finding themselves on the parliamentary floor without receiving a single vote.
No less than 14 MPs have resigned (save Konrad Mizzi who was booted out of the Labour Party but remains an Independent MP) while another five have confirmed that they won’t be contesting the next general election. And that’s not counting the scandal-ridden politicians who might not survive beyond 2022.
Joseph Muscat’s resignation opened the floodgates, with his successor, Robert Abela, using any opportunity to bypass democracy to replenish his parliamentary group with some desperately needed allies.
The Opposition is facing its own battles, losing political heavyweights and key figures in battleground districts, while failing to get rid of a swathe of MPs who have led the PN to successive landslide defeats.
Here’s a look at who’s stepping aside and how it could open up the door for an intense battle between district rivals.
1. So who’s stepping aside?
The Labour Party had no less than four MPs resign in disgrace since 2017, with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former Minister Chris Cardona, Minister Konrad Mizzi, and Silvio Grixti leaving the Labour Party parliamentary group following scandal.
Meanwhile, two sitting MPs, Justyne Caruana and Ian Castaldi Paris, will not be contesting the next general election after their time in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
Etienne Grech also stepped aside, citing personal reasons, while several heavy hitters were moved on to other roles, like current EU Commissioner Helena Dalli, Central Bank Govenor Edward Scicluna, British High Commissioner Manuel Malla, and MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia, who resigned just moments after being elected through a casual election.
When it comes to the Opposition, the PN has also lost key figures like Simon Busuttil, who left to become the EPP General Secretary, and Marthese Portelli, who left to join the MDA before settling at the Chamber of Commerce.
However, the PN’s biggest concern is its major losses in Gozo, a key battleground district.
Portelli and David Stellini both stepped down, while Frederick Azzopardi passed away in 2020.
2. Endless co-options: from the Leader of the Opposition to Abela’s inner circle
Worryingly, the PN has had to sacrifice two elected officials to make space for successive leaders of the opposition, with both Bernard Grech and Adrian Delia gaining a seat by virtue of co-option, without ever actually having received a single vote in the general election.
They’re not alone. There are six other MPs who used the mechanism to get a foot onto the parliamentary floor without ever receiving a single vote.
However, it’s Prime Minister Robert Abela that has made the most use of co-option, bringing in no less than five new unelected MPs on board during his administration, which has seen a massive turnover since Joseph Muscat’s resignation.
Abela has used the resignations of Muscat, Gulia, Grixti, Grech, and Mallia to bring in close allies to the fold, like Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, Energy and Sustainability Minister Miriam Dalli, Oliver Scicluna, Jonathan Attard, and Andy Grech.
Gavin Gulia was the greatest example of how the co-option system can used and abused by Malta’s politicians. Gulia chose to contest the casual election for Edward Scicluna’s seat, but only to keep firebrand and current PN candidate former PL mayor Charles Azzopardi from getting the seat.
Hours after his appointment, Gulia stepped aside to return to his role as MTA Chairman, with Oliver Scicluna the lucky beneficiary.
It’s proven to be a useful tool for Malta’s current Prime Minister who looks to stamp his authority within an administration that in truth was built by Joseph Muscat. However, it begs the question as to whether Abela’s manoeuvres are creating a democratic deficit within parliament.
3. A hotly-contested election between district rivals is on the cards
There will be more opportunities for Abela to bolster his ranks with allies in the near future, with disgraced former minister and current independent MP Konrad Mizzi unlikely to run under the Labour Party ticket, and disgraced former minister Justyne Caruana and Ian Castaldi Paris declaring that they will not run in the upcoming general election following respective scandals.
Meanwhile, the loss of heavyweights like Helena Dalli and Edward Scicluna, means that there are significant votes up for grabs in hotly contested districts.
Helena Dalli was elected on both the second and third districts, two Labour Party strongholds, leaving more than 2,000 first count votes up for grabs. Meanwhile, Edward Scicluna leaves a gaping hole in the hotly contested seventh district, after receiving 3,665 first count votes in 2017.
Still, it remains to be seen which new faces will enter the fold, while concerns will remain about several scandal-ridden MPs and Cabinet members remaining in power beyond the 2022 general election.
Minister Carmelo Abela remains linked to an attempted HSBC heist in 2010, while Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, Minister Michael Farrugia, and MP Rosianne Cutajar remain clouded by their unsavoury links to Yorgen Fenech, the main suspect in the Daphne Caruana Galizia assassination who is also linked to alleged government corruption.
But the PN are also facing similar problems with Delia still subject to a magisterial inquiry over an alleged bribe from Fenech, while Stephen Spiteri’s sick note scandal cannot be ignored, especially with Grixti stepping aside for similar misconduct. Meanwhile, questions will be asked with regards to David Thake and an unpaid VAT bill.
Still, unlike Abela, Grech has so far failed to bring any of his own MPs on board, with many stalwarts who are well-passed their sell-by date set to contest in the general election, even though the party they form part of has lost landslide election after landslide election over the last decade.
Hermann Schiavone has so far announced that he will be stepping down to make way for some fresh faces, but the same cannot be said about the many PN parliamentarians who seem ready to cling onto their seats.
Meanwhile, independent MPs Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia remain a footnote in the political scene, despite becoming the first third-party MPs to be elected to parliament.
Both have said they will not contest in the general election, with a private members bill on decriminalising abortion gathering dust while it gets lost in parliamentary bureaucracy.
Still, their votes represent a major opportunity for both the PN and PL, who will try to win over voters who are clearly disenfranchised with both major political parties.
Whoever you’re voting for, it’s going to be an exciting election.
What do you think about the changes to parliament?