01 July, 2012

Dom Mintoff


Dominic Mintoff was a Maltese politician, journalist, and architect who was leader of the Labor Party from 1949 to 1984, and was 8th Prime Minister of Malta from 1955 to 1958, when Malta was still a British colony, and again, following independence, from 1971 to 1984. His tenure as Prime Minister saw the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state.

Mintoff was born in Bormla. He attended a seminary before enrolling at the University of Malta. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science and, later, as an architect and civil engineer (1937). That same year he received a Rhodes Scholarship and pursued his studies at Hertford College, Oxford, where he received a Master’s in Science and Engineering in 1939.

After a brief stint as an official of the Bormla Labor Party club, Mintoff was Labor’s Secretary General between 1935 and 1945. He was first elected to public office in 1945 to the Government Council. In the same year, Mintoff was elected Deputy Leader of the Party with a wide margin that placed him in an indisputable position as the successor, if not a challenger, to the Leader Paul Boffa. After Labor’s victory at the polls in 1947, Mintoff was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction, overseeing large post-War public projects.

Mintoff's strong position and ambition led to a series of Cabinet crises. A split in the Labor Party came about when Boffa, who was ready for compromise and moderation with the colonial authorities, resigned and formed the Malta Workers Party and Mintoff re-founded the Labor Party as the "Malta Labor Party" of which he assumed leadership. The split resulted in the weakening of both parties and it was not until 1955 after remaining out of government for three consecutive legislatures, that the Labor Party was elected in office with Mintoff as Prime Minister. This government's main political platform – integration with the UK – led to a deterioration of the Party's relations with the Catholic Church, leading to interdiction by the Church. The Labor Party lost the subsequent two elections in 1962 and 1966 and boycotted the Independence celebrations in 1964.

Dom Mintoff was elected as Prime Minister when Labor won the 1971 general election and immediately set out to re-negotiate the post-Independence military and financial agreements with the United Kingdom. The government also undertook socialist-style nationalization programs, import substitution schemes, and the expansion of the public sector and the welfare state. Employment laws were revised with gender equality being introduced in salary pay. In the case of civil law, civil (non-religious) marriage was introduced and homosexuality and adultery were decriminalized. Through a package of constitutional reforms agreed to with the opposition party, Malta became a republic in 1974.

The Labor Party was confirmed in office in the 1976 elections. In 1981 the Party managed to hold on to a parliamentary majority, even though the opposition Nationalist Party managed an absolute majority of more than 4000 votes. A serious political crisis ensued when Nationalist MPs refused to accept the electoral result and also refused to take their seats in parliament for the first years of the legislature. Premier Dom Mintoff called this action "perverse" but it was not an uncommon one in any parliamentary democracy with disputed election results. Mintoff voluntarily resigned as Prime Minister and Party leader in 1984 (although he retained his parliamentary seat). A Party General Conference in that same year appointed Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici who acted uncontested as party leader.

For the 1981 elections, the opposition Nationalist Party, reinvigorated with a new leader, looked set for a serious challenge to Mintoff. In fact, in that election, the Partit Nazzjonalista managed an absolute majority of votes, but managed only 31 seats to the Malta Labor Party's 34. Mintoff said that he would not be ready to govern in such conditions and hinted that he would call for fresh elections within six months. However, this was not to be: Mintoff eventually accepted the President's invitation to form a government. This led to a political crisis whose effects continued through much of the 1980s, as well as increasing political violence in the street such as the Black Monday incident.

Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labor Party in 1984, while retaining his Parliamentary seat and remaining a government backbencher. He was succeeded by Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. Mintoff was instrumental in convincing his parliamentary colleagues to support constitutional amendments ensuring a parliamentary majority for the party achieving an absolute majority of votes. A repeat of 1981 was thus avoided, and the Partit Nazzjonalista went on to win the 1987 elections. The Labor Party went into opposition for the first time in sixteen years. He successfully contested the 1987, 1992 and 1996 elections. However, there was a growing rift between Mintoff, seen as Old Labor, and Alfred Sant, the new Labor Leader. Things came to a head in 1998 when the Labor government was negotiating the lease of sea line to be developed in a yacht marina in Birgu. Mintoff eventually voted against the government's motion which was defeated. The President, acting on Prime Minister Sant's advice dissolved Parliament and elections were held. This was the first time, since the war, that Mintoff's name was not on the ballot paper and the Malta Labor Party lost heavily.

Mintoff was taken to hospital on July 18, 2012. He was later discharged on 4 August and spent his 96th birthday at home where he died August 20. He was given a state funeral by the Government of Malta on August 26.

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