Eddie Fenech Adami, Malta’s prime minister, will on Saturday, his 70th birthday, announce his intention to step down.
Mr Fenech Adami, who has served as prime minister for 16 years, always promised to relinquish his position once he turned 70.
He may remain in the post for months, however, possibly beyond May 1 when Malta and nine other countries join the European Union at a ceremony in Dublin.
As the longest serving head of government since independence in 1964, he is likely to remain influential in political circles. Mr Fenech Adami was first elected as leader of the nationalist party in 1977.
There is speculation he might wish to become the island’s next president, a largely ceremonial role, in April. Some 800 party delegates will pick the next party leader from a choice of up to four candidates, all of whom are cabinet ministers.
The frontrunner to succeed as premier is Lawrence Gonzi, the 49-year-old social policy minister and Mr Fenech Adami’s deputy since 1999. Except for his chain-smoking, Mr Gonzi is cast in a similar mould to Mr Fenech Adami.
Both are devout Roman Catholics and both favour pragmatic solutions to stubborn political and economic issues something that won them respect among trade unions, investors, importers and manufacturers.
Mr Gonzi’s main opponent will be John Dalli, the veteran finance minister.
Mr Fenech Adami’s decision to quit comes less than a year after he led his party to a fourth five-year term at a general election in April, in which he gained almost 52 per cent of the popular vote.
Six weeks earlier he delivered on a lifelong promise to drive Malta into the EU by winning an acrimonious referendum. His stewardship has changed Malta’s political, social and economic landscape in ways that earned him widespread international respect.
His legacy includes delivering a considerable amount of economic development, amply evident on the island, a robust social system, increased democracy, and a degree of national unity, unthinkable when he first became premier.
However, in recent years, the economy has suffered.
It is hoped a new broom can bring fresh ideas to tackling the island’s rising unemployment.
Investment has also stalled, which has put pressure on the nationalist party to offer new policies to revitalise industry and the business sector.
* Mr Fenech Adami is to meet European Commission president Romano Prodi and regional policy commissioner Michel Barnier today in Brussels. For regional reports, www.ft.com/europe
Financial Times (London, England) February 4, 2004 Wednesday