The Prime Minister’s statement that Miriam Dalli was the best Maltese MEP in the last five years goes beyond an endorsement for her coming campaign to retain her seat in Brussels.
In his assessment, for obvious reasons Joseph Muscat could not pinpoint any of the three Nationalist MEPs as taking the top spot in his personal classification, so that left him with a choice between the three Labour representatives.
With Marlene Mizzi no longer in the running for a seat – although her work in the EP must be commended too – and with his predecessor Alfred Sant stretching the twilight of his political career and certainly not one who needs to be pushed, what Muscat said cannot be simply seen as a way to crown Dalli’s performance in Brussels.
Dalli’s last five years as an MEP, where she was always at the forefront to defend Malta’s interests, consolidated her position in both the local and international political sphere.
But the reason behind Muscat’s public commendation cannot be seen to be restricted to her EP work. That would be simplifying the situation. What Muscat did was effectively anoint Dalli as his preferred choice to succeed him as party leader.
Right now the country is focused on the upcoming EP election, which is set to confirm Labour as the biggest party in the country – by what margin remains to be seen, but it could be another record. But, once this is over, there will be two issues that will grab great attention. The first is the future of the Nationalist Party, and particularly that of leader Adrian Delia, especially if the electoral result will not be too comforting for a party that is coming from a string of heavy defeats.
The second, and this is the subject of this editorial, is the race to replace Joseph Muscat as Labour Party leader and prime minister, given that he has said that he will give up his place before the next general election.
As normally happens in these circumstances, and until Muscat’s departure is made official, anyone with an interest in taking over from him will lie low so as not to be seen to be too pushy. But the groundwork is already being laid by a number of potential candidates, who are sounding out the grassroots to discover whether there is potentially an opportunity for them to take the top spot.
Miriam Dalli has been named in the list of possible candidates, along with Chris Fearne, Ian Borg and, more recently, Konrad Mizzi (although how the latter could even fathom the idea is beyond comprehensible, but that’s another story).
Joseph Muscat’s words about Dalli may not have pleased her possible opponents in the race for the leadership. Given that Muscat is seen by Labour supporters as never ever having put a foot wrong, many will follow what he says without raising too many questions.
And for many Muscat’s commendation may seem as a direct invitation for them to choose Miriam Dalli over the rest when the time comes.