Nationalist MEP candidates Francis Zammit Dimech and Roselyn Borg Knight share how their fascination for politics began, healthy lifestyles and the issues they’re most passionate about. Photographs by Joanna Demarco.
This interview was first published in First Magazine circulated with The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Francis Zammit Dimech and Roselyn Borg Knight. At first glance, two very different Nationalist MEP candidates who share the same political territory in the upcoming MEP elections. Despite their difference in age and political experience there is a positive chemistry and energy between the two.
“I remember being in the car with my mother at the time, when Francis gave me a call after finding out that I was contesting on the same districts. People tell you how people backstab you in politics, but I stepped into the political world with a call from Francis encouraging me, and that gave me the right start. Since then we have always been in touch and worked closely.” Francis remembers how he immediately thought that Roselyn had “a clear flair” for everything that politics brings about.
Political veteran and current MEP Francis Zammit Dimech is known by anyone familiar with Maltese politics, whilst Roselyn energetically joined the political scene five years ago and is already the Nationalist’s Party’s International Secretary. Despite the fact that they literally both got into politics in different centuries, both candidates had similar ways in, and both can pin down how their fascination with the political world began.
A lawyer by profession, Roselyn’s love for politics was born at her father’s small tobacconist shop at the Sliema ferries, which sold newspapers. She describes the shop as ‘a people’s shop’, where political issues were constantly discussed, and where she had intense discussions with her father. “So it was a very natural yes for me when I was asked to contest”. Francis’ fascination began when Malta had just become an independent state – at the time he would keep personal scrapbooks, pasting cutouts from political papers.
As both grew and became teenagers and young adults, they started involving themselves in youth movements, and civil society groups, such as KSU and the Mini European Assembly. Roselyn boils their similarity down to a character trait, ‘”a character trait where you want to be part of something and bring about change.”
Bringing about changes in the country is something Francis looks back at throughout his 30 plus year political career and is proud of. His tenors as a minister with the Nationalist Party saw him covering a variety of portfolios; from the environment to transport and cultural projects.
Roselyn is awed by Francis’ list and jokes that the long list may only signify growing older. Francis, in his 60’s, has a quick and strong reply to that. “As long as you keep looking forward to what you can still do and keep doing, then you are young. I look back at the past with satisfaction, but that gets me more determined to do more in the future… so, yes, I consider myself psychologically and emotionally young. Politics and people energise me!”
In fact, Francis’ untiring energy is now being injected into his current MEP tenure. For the past two years he has been working on the Committee of Culture and the Committee of Legal Affairs, where he is working on regulating online platforms and business, ensuring fairness and transparency to provide a better package to consumers. Francis is also delving into something which is close to his heart: health issues. “Health issues like diabetes, dyslexia and cancer are issues which many people talk to me about during home visits.” Becoming more aware of these topics has caused him to rediscover the importance of health, and apply it to his own life. “This awareness has made me lose some 20kg – which I am rather happy about.” He now frequently participates in walkathons around the islands and has recently joined the Malta geographical society, which organises treks.
Francis’ new lifestyle causes Roselyn to lament over her failed attempts at finding time for a steady exercise routine. “To be honest I love what I do so much – being a lawyer and politics – that it doesn’t really feel like work… and when I’m not working, I am enjoying time with my son. I actually began my political career five years ago when I was three months pregnant, and as my pregnancy moved along, so did the number of house visits, as did the lessons learnt along the way.
“You learn to be more sensitive and selective, how to cooperate with colleagues, be smarter, and how to deal with people. It’s all about people, really. People vote for a person because they like their character and who they are.”
Such a belief is something Roselyn has carried with her throughout her career, which began with her setting up a law firm in the United Kingdom, which she then sold, going on to open another law firm in Malta. She attributes networking to what caused her to start off the business abroad, which links back to connecting with people.
“My passion is employers and employees, healthy industrial relations and finding win-win situations for both parties to have a good outcome, self-employment, animal activism, and gender equality. I am especially passionate about this. If I were to leave a mark, I would definitely want to be remembered for my passion and work towards gender equality. I don’t think we’re there yet, and it’s something I want to achieve.”