It’s been said that behind every great man is a great woman, but Lydia Abela has hardly stood behind new Prime Minister Robert Abela throughout his leadership campaign, choosing to stand right by his side instead.
And that is hardly a surprise, for Lydia Abela is every bit as much a political animal as her husband and is now in a position to exert serious influence on Malta’s future. So who exactly is the wife of the new Prime Minister?
Lydia was born in 1978, one of five children to Anthony and Emanuela Zerafa, a ship engineer and a housewife from Bormla.
Here is Lydia and two of her sisters with some friends and relatives.
Two of Lydia’s sisters, Darleen and Alison, both have significant political experience and, between themselves, have ensured that the Zerafa family has had a permanent presence at the Bormla local council since the start of the decade.
Alison, the current mayor, has been a councillor since 2009 and her sister Darleen used to sit on the council before her, both representing the Labour Party.
Back in 2008, Darleen strongly criticised Labour Party delegates after they shot down a proposal to extend the upcoming PL leadership vote to members.
“Everyone is valid and everyone can contribute to the party and its future, including members. Hearing that members are not part of the party disgusts me,” she was reported as saying.
Her father-in-law George Abela contested that election, but delegates back then turned him down in favour of a certain Joseph Muscat.
However, Labour later introduced this proposal anyway and, as fate would have it, when it was finally applied, it saw George Abela’s son win the election.
Back to Lydia though.
The current wife of the Prime Minister met the current Prime Minister when they were both law students at the University of Malta.
“The first time I met Robert was when he brought some law books to our house with the excuse that he was delivering them because Lydia didn’t drive,” Emanuela recounted to ONE.
And while many young romances burn out quickly, Lydia and Robert stuck with each other and they eventually tied the knot on 19th October 2008, exactly one day after Lydia’s 30th birthday. Four years later, she gave birth to a daughter called Giorgia Mae.
On a more professional level, Lydia graduated with a Masters in maritime law and landed a job at George Abela’s law firm, becoming Robert Abela’s colleague as well as his partner.
Abela Advocates, formerly Abela, Stafrace and Associates, has been in the news a fair few times for its longtime consultancy work to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and its eventual successor the Planning Authority.
Lydia’s first true foray into the political scene came in 2010 when the Labour Party appointed her as its executive secretary. Both she and then Opposition leader Joseph Muscat used the occasion to drive home a message about women’s rights.
“Lydia is a success story of a woman who has succeeded and is succeeding,” Muscat said. “She’s also a success story of a woman who balances between her career and her family.”
These were Lydia’s first words to the public after her appointment.
“I welcomed the party leader’s call to occupy this position because I believe that this party gives opportunities to everyone, an inclusive movement that takes care of workers, self-employed, the middle-class, businesspeople, elderly, youth, and, above all, something I feel I have to mention, perhaps because I am a woman, a party that promotes the role of women in today’s society. Just as I had the luck to find a job, I feel that other women like me need the same opportunities.”
In her role, Lydia was part of the Labour Party as it went on a long victory streak, winning two general elections, two European Parliament elections and four local council elections.
She also headed the interviewing board for LEAD, the Labour Party’s training academy attract more women to politics.
Lydia had called for more women to enter politics.
“If I had one disappointment from the last general election, it was the lack of female representation in our parliamentary group, only 10% of MPs. I believe that this situation must change if our country is to proceed beyond the halfway line.”
“Without the participation of women, we can only get halfway because we’d be excluding half our population and half of their skills. This is a reality that has been with us since 1947 and, if you look at statistics, you’ll notice that [female representation in Parliament] has remained consistently low since women were granted the vote. The time for change cannot be postponed any longer and we must take action.”
But she warned that women get turned off by the brutal nature of Maltese politics
- “You asked me about the obstacles [for women entering politics]. It’s not only about finding a balance between work, family and politics, but I think women also need to find a political environment of civil discussions.”
“Women are perhaps more sensitive to criticism and when they hear certain speeches, they ask themselves why they should enter politics if it will mean getting attacked. If politics is more civil and attracts more women, I think this will make a difference.”
On Xarabank, she had addressed the situation within the PN in the wake of last year’s MEP and local council elections
“I believe that Adrian Delia is part of the situation that the PN has found itself in. Adrian Delia ended up a victim of his own actions. He is now the leader and it should be up to him to tell his supporters and candidates that they cannot keep going overseas and speaking out against Malta.”
“You cannot allow Maltese to go overseas and attack their country and if he doesn’t send a signal as a leader… I mean, I tell my daughter when she does wrong and give her direction; the leader and deputy leaders are there to give direction. It must be them who say we must show love to our country and that we should stop criticising when we’re overseas.”
She had also reacted very strongly when the majority of PN MPs voted against an anti-domestic violence bill.
“This is a law which protects vulnerable women. I cannot understand how [Adrian Delia] gave his MPs a free vote with the excuse that they can vote with their conscience when it’s obvious that anyone with a conscience will vote in favour of such a law.”
Lydia also displayed the patience of an ox when faced with a pretty frustrating set of questions from her own party’s media.
And she even got to hang out at the gym with Jeremy Corbyn
Lydia stood by her husband’s side throughout his leadership campaign, attending several of his rallies and even organising a coffee morning of her own.
And, make of this what you will, but the most viewed Facebook video of Abela’s campaign was, by a country mile, a short video of Lydia and young Georgia Mae discussing Robert as a person.
“Robert is energetic, he’s a person who wants to do a lot and get everything done,” Lydia said. “If a day is 24 hours long, he will do his utmost to use up every minute and every second of the day.”
“He’s a positive person because he always sees the positive in every situation and circumstance. He has a good heart and he’s always ready to help those in need, those who are sick, everyone.”
“I think love is the value which we give most value to in our relationship, because love unites and where there’s unity there is also stability.”
Lydia’s perseverance has paid off and she now has the ear of the most powerful man in the country. She probably has more political experience than any other wife of the Prime Minister in Malta’s history and has the popularity and charisma to boot and eyes will be on her to see how she will develop the role of the wife of the Prime Minister.
It’s still early days but it would be wise for people to not only focus on the man fronting the administration but also the woman who has been with him from the very beginning.