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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Simon Busuttil needs to be bolder and more forceful

Muscat is fast earning the reputation that he over-promises and under-delivers – and he has only himself to blame

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
22 October 2014, 7:25am
Busuttil needs to sell himself as a credible PM to the country at large, and to do that he needs to be bolder and more forceful
Busuttil needs to sell himself as a credible PM to the country at large, and to do that he needs to be bolder and more forceful
This opinion first appeared in MaltaToday on Sunday 19 October.

Let’s be honest, the dissatisfaction about the lack of boldness often shown by PN leader Simon Busuttil is too frequent not to have some credibility. This week was a case in point. On Sunday morning, many expected Busuttil to call a news conference right after the PM’s admission of failure on the power station deadline, and, short of calling for his resignation, give him a piece of his mind, and tongue.

He did not. A media statement by the PN, and a brief comment to the media by the Opposition leader was considered to be a very inappropriate way on how to chastise Muscat for failing to keep his word on this very important pre-electoral promise. The PN’s luke-warm reaction to Muscat’s admission of failure disappointed many a Nationalist party supporter and middle of the road voter.

If the Nationalist Party wants to stand a chance of winning the next general election, it has to start firing on all cylinders now – not in three years’ time. Busuttil’s stand that the 2015 local council elections should go ahead as planned forced the Prime Minister to back down on his plans to postpone them – that was a feather in Busuttil’s cap. He stood his ground, and won the argument hands down.

However, he needs to show his mettle on other issues – not least when the occasion, as happened with the power station issue, arises and is handed to him on a silver plate.

It was a bad week for Joseph Muscat, probably his worse since being elected Prime Minister two years ago. The 24-month target was implausible for any project of this size, despite Labour’s spin and reassurances by the Prime Minister and Minister Konrad Mizzi. That Muscat did not keep his word and resign did not surprise anyone; his pledge that he would go was always taken to be yet another, pre-electoral bluff.

Needless to say, Muscat did not offer one word of apology for failing to keep his word on what was the kernel of the Labour electoral programme. The Prime Minister acts as if he has no obligation to accept responsibility for his errors; very typical of him.

To make matters worse, this week the Prime Minister was forced to do a political U-turn and allow the local elections to happen in 2015, after toying with the ridiculous idea of postponing next year’s local elections to ‘cut down on costs’. The Prime Minister had better watch out – the party is over. His reputation has been severely hammered this week. Muscat is fast earning the reputation that he over-promises and walks back – and he has only himself to blame.

The unfortunate thing for the Nationalist Party this week was that what could have been a turning point for the party is now considered to have been yet another missed opportunity. True, tomorrow Parliament is to hold a parliamentary debate about the energy sector, as requested by the Opposition, and I have no doubt that Busuttil will rise to the occasion – his best moments have come during Parliamentary debates; but a week late is perceived to be too little and probably too late.

The new PN leader likes to argue that his party has more policy and ideas than any opposition party in Malta’s history, and in many ways he’s right, but electors expect more than just policy. Busuttil will only persuade people and win their hearts and minds, if he is more passionate, bolder and more confident in his arguments.

A bolder and more forceful Opposition leader would help shore up the support of those who are disappointed with Muscat’s antics and his strategy of over-promising and under-delivering, which is now, self-evidently, backfiring for the Prime Minister and his party.

If Simon Busuttil’s biggest problem is that people expect him to be bolder and more forceful, then the best thing for him to do is to get out there and demonstrate that he can be bolder, assertive and more forceful – not only with his side, but, especially, with his political opponent: the Prime Minister and his government. I have no doubt that Busuttil is able to do that. People are waiting for that to happen more often.

Letting in fresh air

At the time of writing [Friday] online news portals are awash with reports that Archbishop Paul Cremona has asked the Vatican to accept his resignation from the post of head of the Maltese church. It was the right and sensible thing to do, and I commend the Archbishop for his decision. 

Way back in August I asked for the Archbishop’s resignation and was, because of my political background, accused of having an agenda: that of seeking to pull the Nationalist Party closer to the Church. I did not waste my time replying to such ridiculous assumptions.

The Nationalist Party has enough challenges of its own, and the last thing it can afford is to embroil itself in religious matters. [Following Simon Busuttil’s statement that the PN is a secular party, I am still waiting for the PN executive to walk the walk and enshrine it in the party’s statute].

I do have an agenda, of course – I want a local Catholic Church that:

1. Gets its priorities right. At a time when many are struggling to make ends meet, the creation of new works of art to adorn our Churches disappoints and alienates people;

2. Reaches out more effectively to those on the fringes of society who need help the most;

3. Encourages the regeneration of ideas within its structures;

4. Does not pontificate;

5. Is not estranged from what is happening in society. 

6. Is not afraid of secularism;

7. Gives a fuller share for women in ecclesiastical decision-making;

8. Does not associate sexuality strictly with procreation – but looks, primarily, at the individual’s and from his/her point of view, and as Pope Francis suggested is not obsessed with contraception and gay marriage;

9. Like Pope Francis, condemns the globalisation of indifference;

10. Invites social-scientists and the local academia – whatever their beliefs, or lack of, to provide ideas on how to create a society, and an economy with a more human face;

11. Emphasizes what believers should do, not what they should not do.

Before the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII said: ‘Open the window and let in some fresh air.’ It’s time for the local Catholic Church to do precisely that, in 2014. 

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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