Front page.

NEWS | Wednesday, 01 April 2009

Three decades of Eddie

Eddie Fenech Adami has been in politics almost as long as the present Opposition leader has been alive. MATTHEW VELLA goes over the salient points in his memorable 32-year career

1977 – ‘Tra due litiganti...’
Relatively unknown, the Birkirkara lawyer took the deceased Gorg Caruana’s seat in the 1966 bye-election, but within 10 years would be swept to the party leadership with a two-thirds majority against the more established contenders, Censu Tabone and Guido Demarco. The unassuming family man, of staunch Catholic values, becomes the PN’s answer to the charismatic Dom Mintoff. After what is rumoured to have been a bitter election contest, Fenech Adami wisely keeps his two defeated rivals by his side when he assumes the reins of power. Lampooned by the Labour-friendly press as a “toddler” (vavu), he immediately starts stirring the waters by slowly changing an antiquated right-wing party into a centrist movement based on popular solidarity and free market principles.

1979 – The cult of Eddie
The outpouring of violence by Labour thugs cements Fenech Adami’s deification into a leader destined to take Malta out of its political quagmire. Violent Labour supporters ransack his house, terrorising his mother, wife and children, who are forced to escape over the roof. Elsewhere, the Times building and printing press is destroyed by arsonists, as the country comes close to full-scale civil conflict. The attacks form a vivid illustration of the extent of the threat towards democracy at the time. Eddie succeeds in persuading Prime Minister Mintoff to restrain his violent supporters, displaying crisis leadership potential for the first time.

1981 – Constitutional crisis
The PN wins the popular vote in the general elections, but gerrymandered districts do not give the party the majority of parliamentary seats that is Constitutionally required to form government. The dark chapter in Maltese history will be the start of an upsurge in political violence, civil disobedience and the gradual process towards democratic renewal. Fenech Adami leads a two-year boycott of parliament and a popular campaign against government-friendly businesses, bringing Labour sponsors to their knees and forcing the government to acknowledge its anomalous position.

1986 – Tal-Barrani
Fenech Adami, decked in a bullet-proof jacket, leads a mass gathering of supporters into Tal-Barrani road to hold a mass meeting in Zejtun after police and government refuse to give consent to the meeting inside the Labour stronghold. Labour thugs, followed by police and members of the Special Mobile Unit, reply with stones and tear gas, and the burning of PN supporters’ vehicles etches this forgetful event into the collective memory of the Maltese. Over 20 persons afterwards have to be treated for gunshot wounds in the PN headquarters in Pieta’. In parliament it would later be revealed that a helicopter, directing the mayhem from above, was in radio contact with a government minister.

1986 – Raymond Caruana
Another blot on Maltese history a month after the Tal-Barrani incident, when PN supporter Raymond Caruana is killed by a stray bullet fired through the door of the Gudja PN club by unknown Labour activists. In parliament, Fenech Adami uses his Budget reply to decry the crime and the subsequent arrest of Peter Paul Busutil: a PN activist framed for the murder by the police. “The budget is irrelevant to the Maltese people,” Fenech Adami says. “Defending liberty and democracy is what the Maltese people will be voting for.” The parliamentary session is interrupted by animated Labour MPs, led by ministers Wistin Abela and Lorry Sant, who almost assault Fenech Adami.

1987 – Electoral triumph
Eddie Fenech Adami wins his date with destiny with the era-defining slogan of ‘Work, Justice, Liberty’ but with a majority of just 5,000 votes, having had to contend with a two-month electoral campaign and thousands of government jobs given out by Labour. Fenech Adami tells journalists that without the 1986 Constitutional amendments, the electoral anomaly of 1981 would have been repeated due to the gerrymandered districts.

1990s – An incomplete democracy?
Fenech Adami restores Malta to the normality it craves, opening up the economy, expanding foreign relations and reversing a 15-year policy of self-sufficiency and limited foreign trade and. By the 1990s Malta starts its transition into the mainstream of modern European countries, but not everything changes. However, the new Nationalist government is not without blemish: former members of the notorious SMU are retained in the force now rechristened the Special Assignment Group; media pluralism is offered first to the political parties and the Church; the Church-State agreement Fenech Adami signs in 1993 cedes executive power to the Church Tribunals in its decisions on marriage nullity, as though they were a decision by the Court of Appeal; he also stands by his minister, Louis Galea, during the scandal of the Auxiliary Workers Training Scheme; and despite past reassurances, he will never see that justice is done in the name of Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana, the unwilling victims of the political excesses of the past; nor will he compensate the dispossessed former shareholders of the National Bank of Malta.

1994 – The Zeppi l-Hafi fiasco
Fenech Adami’s head of secretariat, the trusty Richard Cachia Caruana, survives a violent murder attempt outside his Mdina home on the evening of 18 December. The aftermath raises questions about Fenech Adami’s hold over the police, after the Prime Minister relieves the Police Commissioner of his duty to investigate, and instead personally interviews the chief suspect – his own former bodyguard Joseph Fenech, aka Zeppi l-Hafi – in a secret meeting in St Julian’s. Fenech names Meinrad Calleja, the son of army Brigadier Maurice Calleja, as the man who commissioned the murder. Fenech Adami is adamant that police follow this lead, and in one of his most controversial decisions ever, he awards Joseph Fenech a presidential pardon in return for his testimony in court. But 10 years later, a trial by jury absolves Calleja. Ian Farrugia, also present on the murder scene, and who says Joseph Fenech stabbed Cachia Caruana, is also absolved of any involvement.

1996 – Electoral downfall
Fenech Adami is stunned by an electoral loss not even PN strategists expected. The introduction of VAT proves so unpopular that Alfred Sant, the new leader of the MLP, rides on a wave of disgruntled businessmen and shopkeepers – as well as hunters and trappers – against preparatory measures for EU accession. On the radio, Fenech Adami momentously assuages his supporters’ worst fears by saying the electoral result would be “a photo finish”... but goes to lose by 8,000 votes.

1998 – The return
An embattled Alfred Sant finds history against him as Dom Mintoff awakens from his political slumber in the backbench to erupt against his own party in government. Unable to contain Mintoff’s protestations against his austere 1997 Budget and the doomed Cottonera waterfront project, Sant calls for early elections, which he loses. Eddie reclaims the floating voter with a 13,000 majority and embarks on the road to EU membership.
2003 – EU accession
Fenech Adami crowns a decades-long aspiration by the PN to become an EU member in a tortuous five-year process to convince voters that the island’s destiny was in Brussels. At 69, Fenech Adami becomes the oldest serving prime minister of an EU member state, and receives the 2003 European of the Year award from the influential Brussels-based newspaper European Voice in recognition of his efforts to bring Malta into the EU.

2004 – End of an era? Not exactly
After a year in government following his fifth electoral victory in 2003, Fenech Adami announces his resignation from PN leader on his 70th birthday, opening a three-way race for party leader. Deputy PM Lawrence Gonzi, highly tipped for leader as a natural successor, is elected to the top and becomes prime minister. Within months, Gonzi ‘returns the favour’ by nominating Fenech Adami for President of the Republic – amid popular disbelief and disappointment by top pundits, who seem to agree that Fenech Adami should retire completely from politics. Fenech Adami accepts the nomination, acknowledges the apparent disgruntlement of the people, but forges ahead with a relatively eventless presidency.

2009 – The grand finale
Eddie Fenech Adami’s successor turns out to be George Abela, a former Labour deputy leader for party affairs, but ironically enough also a former MLP representative of the 1986 electoral commission which PN representatives accused of intransigence on the unchanged gerrymandered districts. Fenech Adami’s last trip as Head of State, is for a papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI, whom Fenech Adami – himself not a fan of relativism or anti-foundational philosophy – quotes liberally in speeches and interviews.



Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



Download front page in pdf file format


All the interviews from Reporter on MaltaToday's YouTube channel.


National unity and groundless allegations


Anna Mallia

The party’s brigade

A taste of Ebba’s sketches
Currently NUVO art & dine is exhibiting the first commemorative exhibition of Ebba von Fersen Balzan organised by her husband Saviour Balzan and Nuvo.

An honorary Maltese, a visionary artist
Artists, art critics and friends unanimously gather to remember the impact and value of Ebba von Fersen Balzan’s work and her strong connection with the Maltese islands


The Julian Manduca Award

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email