Sunday, 14 July 2019, 09:45 Last update: about 31 minutes ago
Different rumours about Joseph Muscat’s future are doing the rounds through the corridors of Castille, with some sources telling this newspaper that the PM will start packing by the end of this year and others insisting that he has not yet taken a decision.
Muscat, who was elected Labour Party leader in 2008, has always said that his was a 10-year project and has frequently stated that he intends to step down before the 2022 general election, paving the way for a party leadership race.
Many government and Labour officials have been calling on Muscat – who enjoys a cult-like status in the party – to stay on and lead the party to more landslide electoral victories. These calls have only intensified since Muscat’s failure to land a coveted Brussels top job earlier this month, despite his intense lobbying to join the EU elite.
In his first comments after that marathon EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels, Muscat said he would work as prime minister with ‘more vigour’, but also told a local radio station that his mind had not changed and that he would not be leading the PL into the next general election.
A source close to the government has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that Muscat is expected to start the handover process towards the end of this year or early next year at the latest, meaning that Malta might have a new prime minister in 2020.
Muscat, the source says, wants to have a new Labour leader in place before the country goes to the polls.
The idea to step down halfway through the legislature is meant to give time for his successor to settle into the role of PM and have at least two years to prepare for the election. This means that a new Labour leader would have their own electoral mandate, the source explained.
According to the source, Muscat will be making the move shortly after announcing the next budget.
The fact that some of the prime minister’s key aides have been moving to other jobs seems to indicate a major development.
On Friday, the government announced that Kurt Farrugia, considered to be one of Muscat’s right hand men and who has served as the government’s head of communications since 2013, has been appointed CEO of Malta Enterprise.
No decision yet
But another source, who is also close to the prime minister, says that Muscat has not yet made a decision about his future. The source explains that, at 45, Muscat is still relatively young and he is not yet in a position to retire. Joining the private sector, however, is not something that Muscat is actively considering, the source explained.
It is unclear at this stage whether Muscat will stay on until his current term expires or whether he will seek another five years in office.
Over the past few weeks, many have tried to analyse what the prime minister’s next move could be.
One option is to stay on as prime minister for another couple of years before trying again for an EU role.
Some have argued that Muscat should exit national politics now, when the going is good. Muscat would exit with his head held high, relatively unscathed by the numerous corruption scandals surrounding his administration and with a string of massive electoral victories under his belt.
Some have suggested that Muscat should consider stepping down before the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia starts, lest the investigation expose some form of political link.
It has also been argued that Muscat should not be seen as interfering in the process to elect his successor, though it is often argued that the prime minister and his inner circle will still hold sway over that process.
There are four people who are interested in the role: Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, Transport Minister Ian Borg, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne and Labour MEP Miriam Dalli.
It has also been argued that, should Muscat now change his mind and stay on as prime minister, it would appear as though his plans were based solely on the erroneous assumption that he would be getting a top EU job.