Robert Abela KUOM (born 7 December 1977)[1] is a Maltese lawyer and politician who has served as prime minister of Malta and leader of Labour Party since 2020. The son of former President George Abela, he was elected to Parliament in 2017. Abela was sworn in as prime minister following the resignation of Joseph Muscat on 13 January 2020.

Robert Abela
Official portrait, 2022
14th Prime Minister of Malta
Assumed office
13 January 2020
PresidentGeorge Vella
Myriam Spiteri Debono
DeputyChris Fearne
Preceded byJoseph Muscat
9th Leader of the Labour Party
Assumed office
12 January 2020
Preceded byJoseph Muscat
Member of Parliament
Assumed office
April 2022
ConstituencyDistrict 2
In office
June 2017 – March 2022
ConstituencyDistrict 6
Personal details
Born (1977-12-07) 7 December 1977 (age 46)
Sliema, Malta
Political partyLabour
Lydia Abela Zerafa
(m. 2008)
Children1 daughter
RelativesGeorge Abela (father)
Margaret Abela (mother)
Alison Zerafa Civelli (sister-in-law)
Alma materUniversity of Malta

Early life and professional career edit

Born in Sliema in the Northern Harbour District,[2] to George Abela, a former President of Malta (2009–2014) and his wife Margaret (née Cauchi).[3][4] Abela grew up with his sister Marija in Għaxaq and Marsaskala in the south of Malta. Their mother, Margaret, worked in the administration of the Old University in Valletta and later managed the family's law firm. Robert attended the Sisters' School in Santa Luċija and St Francis primary school in Bormla, to then continue secondary school and sixth form at St Aloysius' College.[5]

A football player in his youth, he played in goal for the national youth team.[5] Abela also practised bodybuilding, competing twice in the national championships in the late 1990s.[6][7]

Abela studied law at the University of Malta, where he met his future wife Lydia. He graduated in 2002.[8] Following his graduation, he worked in the family's Abela Advocates law firm,[5] specialising in industrial and labour law.[9] His law firm's contract with Malta's Planning Authority predates Labour's election in 2013 and has been renewed yearly since. Abela has been criticised for benefiting from direct orders for legal services for public entities,[10] including Enemalta and Transport Malta.[11] In 2018, Robert Abela declared that no conflict of interest arose from his acting as legal representative of Air Malta while his father, former President George Abela, was the mediator and chief negotiator in talks with its pilots.[12]

After 2013, Abela Advocates held a licence (IIP 161) for the sale of Maltese citizenship (Individual Investors Programme), in the name of Robert's wife Lydia.[13] The licence was dropped in early 2020 once Abela became Prime Minister.

Politics edit

Abela became involved in politics while his father George Abela was deputy party leader, supporting the party in the 1996 general election.[5] He claimed that he started off transporting sick people to the polling stations in 1996, and worked behind the scenes for many years in other roles, such as representing the party on current affairs programmes as requested by Joseph Muscat and lately as his legal advisor in Cabinet.[14] He also supported his father in the failed Labour leadership bid against Joseph Muscat in 2008, after Alfred Sant's resignation.[5]

On 25 January 2017, Abela highlighted that a patch of land in his native Qormi was seriously undervalued during the previous Partit Nazzjonalista administration, where contractors paid €0.9 million instead of the full value of €8 million.[15]

Abela was described as appealing to voters with no political ties, as well as the perfect replacement to attract Marie Louise Coleiro Preca's votes in the sixth district of Siggiewi, Luqa and Qormi. He had already been approached; however, he chose his legal profession over politics.[16]

Member of the Parliament of Malta edit

In June 2017, at the age of 40, Abela was elected to the Parliament of Malta after his first attempt at contesting the sixth district, including Siggiewi, Luqa and Qormi, was successful.[17] He also served as legal adviser to the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat,[5] which enabled him to attend the meetings of the Council of Ministers.[9] The Opposition claimed that his private consultancy contracts with the Planning Authority and Transport Malta earned him at least €580,000.[11]

In October 2019, Abela stated that more police were needed on Malta's streets to tackle residents' migration-related concerns.[18]

In his years at the Parliament, Abela was never an outspoken critic of Muscat; in the fallout of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder, he remarked that he would have "acted earlier" to remove minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri from their posts had he been the leader.[14]

2020 Labour leadership race edit

Following the announcement of Joseph Muscat's upcoming resignation due to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, and the ensuing protests, deputy prime minister Chris Fearne was considered the front-runner to replace Muscat as leader of the party and Prime Minister, and other hopefuls (including Ian Borg and Miriam Dalli) were reportedly pressured not to run in order to allow a quick transition by Christmas 2019 with the formality of a vote by party members for a single candidate.[14] Robert Abela remarked that he did not want to be a part of any "diabolical pact", and presented his candidacy as an alternative to Chris Fearne.[19][20][21] However, according to James Debono, Abela was soon recognised as the "continuity" candidate instead of Fearne, emphasising stability, unity and normality, as opposed to the bolder changes advocated by Fearne.[22]

Abela's leadership campaign was focused on party members and aimed at striking a chord with the traditional Labour themes (social housing, free medicines for the elderly and better employment conditions for blue-collar workers)[9][23] while distancing himself from the coziness of Muscat with big business.[14] He also called for a crack-down on cheap labour migrant workers, who he accused of repressing local salaries, by proposing that employers be allowed to hire foreigners only if able to pay them fully on the books and while respecting work condition regulations.[24] He also guaranteed the continuation of Malta's controversial citizenship-by-investment programme.[23]

Abela, a backbencher with no ministerial experience, presented himself as a candidate of continuity, pledging to maintain the same cabinet as Muscat's, as well as the same staff at the powerful Office of the Prime Minister, in opposition to Chris Fearne, whose campaign for a clean slate at Castille created apprehension among insiders.[14]

Abela was openly critical of the 2019 Malta political crisis surrounding the Daphne Caruana Galizia car bombing.[25] In fact, on 28 November 2019, he claimed that the Labour Party would need deep rooted changes rather than superficial ones.[26] Abela also claimed that the only purpose of the 2019 Maltese protests was provocation.[27]

Abela stated that his family law firm headed by his wife should retain the right to bid for public tenders, should he take up office.[10] Following controversies,[28] he later backtracked and committed not to seek public contracts for his family law firm.[12]

His campaign was criticised for not accepting any interviews from the independent press, but only relying on Labour-friendly media outlets.[29]

Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister of Malta edit

At the internal party elections on 12 January 2020, Abela obtained 9,342 votes against 6,798 for Chris Fearne. Over 92% of MLP members cast their vote in party clubs across the country.[14] Abela was thus proclaimed new leader of the Labour Party.

The following day Joseph Muscat resigned from the post of Prime Minister. President George Vella accepted Muscat's resignation and appointed Abela as new Prime Minister of Malta.[30] His first official appointment was that of Clyde Caruana as his chief of staff.[31][32]

Personal life edit

In 2008, he married Lydia Abela Zerafa (née Zerafa), who later took the role of secretary of the Labour Party executive committee. They have a daughter, Giorgia Mae, born in 2012.[14]

Honours edit

National honours edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Spiteri, Adrian (11 January 2020). "Who is Robert Abela?". Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  2. ^ "Dr. Robert Abela".
  3. ^ "Robert Abela elected - Four former presidents' sons may make it to the House". Times of Malta. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  4. ^ Micallef, Keith (13 January 2020). "Robert Abela: from backbencher to Prime Minister". Times of Malta. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "WATCH: Who is Robert Abela? - TVM News".
  6. ^ Cilia, Johnathan (12 January 2020). "Fun Fact: Malta's New Prime Minister Got His Start In Bodybuilding". Lovin Malta.
  7. ^ Grech, Kevin (12 January 2020). "Robert Abela - From Bodybuilding to Malta's new Prime Minister".
  8. ^ "Explainer | Who is Malta's new Prime Minister, Robert Abela". Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "In Malta, Son of Ex-President Is Chosen as Prime Minister". The New York Times. Associated Press. 12 January 2020.
  10. ^ a b "Robert Abela says his law firm should retain right to bid for government work - The Malta Independent".
  11. ^ a b "Robert Abela made €580,000 in consultancy fees - PN". Times of Malta.
  12. ^ a b Robert Abela's law firm would not retain government work after all , 10 January 2019, Times of Malta
  13. ^ Agents List - Identity Malta, November 2019
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Robert Abela elected Labour Party leader and will be Malta's new PM". Times of Malta.
  15. ^ "Watch - Updated (2): 'Vassallo lied about paying Marsovin €8m for Lowenbrau land' - Robert Abela - The Malta Independent". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  16. ^ "Jibdew il-manuvri, jissemmew l-ewwel ismijiet". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  17. ^ "Watch: Nine new faces in parliament so far". Times of Malta. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  18. ^ Diacono, Tim (20 October 2019). "Labour MP: More Police Needed On Streets To Tackle Residents' Migration Fears". Lovin Malta.
  19. ^ "Robert Abela to contest PL leadership election - The Malta Independent". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  20. ^ "Robert Abela to run for Labour leader". Times of Malta. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  21. ^ "Labour MP Robert Abela announces Labour leadership bid". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  22. ^ James Debono on Malta Today
  23. ^ a b "Social housing, free medicines for pensioners among Robert Abela's priorities". Times of Malta.
  24. ^ Diacono, Tim (18 December 2019). "Robert Abela Proposes Banning Employers From Hiring Foreign Workers Unless They Ensure Decent Salaries". Lovin Malta.
  25. ^ "Robert Abela launches scathing attack on 'devilish' Labour leadership pact - The Malta Independent". Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  26. ^ Bonnici, Julian (28 November 2019). "'We Don't Need Cosmetic Changes, We Need Changes To Our Very Foundations': Labour MP Robert Abela Issues Rallying Cry Amid Political Crisis". Lovin Malta. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  27. ^ "Protests' only purpose now is provocation - Robert Abela". Times of Malta. Archived from the original on 12 December 2019. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  28. ^ Borg, Sarah (8 January 2020). ""What Abela did, does not even happen in Żimbabwe" – legal expert".
  29. ^ "Robert Abela fails to live up to TMI interview promise - The Malta Independent".
  30. ^ Balmer, Crispian; Elgood, Gils (13 January 2020). "Robert Abela sworn in as Malta's new prime minister". Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 14 January 2020. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  31. ^ "Contact Details".
  32. ^ Sansone, Kurt (13 January 2020). "Former JobsPlus CEO is Robert Abela's chief of staff". Malta Today. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  33. ^ "Malta's System of Honours, Awards and Decorations" (PDF). Office of the Prime Minister, Malta.
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Labour Party
Political offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of Malta