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That funny feeling

"If the common denominator for any political party is based on how much of an asshole Muscat or Busuttil is, then really it is only a question of time before we elect a Trump as prime minister"

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
16 January 2017, 7:30am
He is good fun for the press, but behind that burst and flurry of monosyllables Salvu Mallia is turning out into Simon Busuttil’s worst nightmare.
He is good fun for the press, but behind that burst and flurry of monosyllables Salvu Mallia is turning out into Simon Busuttil’s worst nightmare.
I wonder whether any citizen in Europe knows that there is such a thing as a rotating presidency of the EU, and that the rotation takes place between the member states every six months.

Many years ago, in the 1990s I believe, Malta took the rotating presidency of the United Nations. It was Guido de Marco who, as Malta’s foreign minister, took on the role of President of the UN General Assembly. I wonder how many people remember this.

It is a symbolic role at both the EU and the UN, and though we all assist to various hands on heart speeches, there is little proof that the rotation makes any sense, other than offer a good chance for some member states to spend more money and organise more expensive events to showcase their national wares.

But this is politics at home and abroad. Like our forefathers who stood to attention before a parade of stiff soldiers marching away, we now sit down to listen to well rehearsed speeches and watch expressive choreographed dances which, frankly, I find very boring.

For Malta, as President of the EU Council until June, it is an opportunity to “showcase” itself to the rest of Europe and, let us face it, we are very good at doing this.

"It was therefore completely nonsensical to leave the Maltese press out of every ministerial briefing during the inaugural launch of the Presidency. Utterly stupid."
It was therefore completely nonsensical to leave the Maltese press out of every ministerial briefing during the inaugural launch of the Presidency. Utterly stupid. I had the good fortune to be invited as a guest speaker at Europa House on the day. At the door I was stopped by an Italian official who, having confused me for a foreign journalist, asked me for my tag. When I was recognised and eventually took my seat to speak my mind, there was not one Maltese journalist. Little did I know then that none of the events had been open for the Maltese media, and that they were accessible only to the Brussels press corps.

So it is not at all surprising that the highlights of the day were the PM’s and Leader of Opposition’s statement. Wednesday was dominated by the intervention of Simon Busuttil and the opening speech by the Prime Minister.

Busuttil’s speech was all about Panama, and he used his precious two minutes to chastise the European Commission for not taking note of the presence of Konrad Mizzi as chair of the energy council. It was a speech one could expect in the circumstances: direct, punishing, unrelenting and damning.

But without minimising the importance of the Panama Papers, Busuttil acted in a way that can have gained him few brownie points from the Commission and fewer from the audience watching him, apart from the PN MPs.

As he spoke of Panama, Jean Claude Juncker, one of the people listening to him, must have wondered what Busuttil would have to say about the Luxleaks scandal in which he, as prime minister, presided – at least by virtue of authority – over scandalous tax rulings for prized multinationals. For those with some awareness about tax avoidance or tax evasion, Luxleaks is as serious as Panama. And this happened when Juncker was PM.

The Panama scandal is serious. But it does not mean that the European Commission (especially the one led by Juncker today) should stop in its tracks and scuttle the Maltese presidency.

Europe is no playing ground for virgin politicians, and the EC itself has no remit to interfere in internal affairs.

It is true that Konrad Mizzi acts as if his actions can be pardoned for him to get on with business, but the fact remains that there is a limit to how long you can flog the Panama Papers, too. Those revelations should have led to resignations, but they did not. That is something Busuttil can raise in the election campaign with much conviction. And there is one big important ‘but’… because while the opening of Panama accounts is undoubtedly unethical and unacceptable, there is no proof, no evidence of kickbacks, so far, in this case. 

Busuttil sincerely believes that his actions – some critics may deride as theatrics – will draw voters towards him, but that is his opinion. I feel that this repetitive talk on the subject is going to drive people away. It certainly won’t help Konrad Mizzi, but it is not helping Busuttil either at this moment. 

On the flipside of matters, the speech at the Mediterranean Conference Centre by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat started off by noting the contribution of Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi to Malta’s EU membership process, a deft reference straight out of the playbook of political magnanimity.

In spite of all the accusations of sleaze, the Prime Minister is intent in coming across as statesmanlike. This may be unacceptable to certain people, to say it as it is. But it is the stark truth. Or at least, this is the way the fine-tuned Muscat is playing to his audience.

Which brings me to Salvu Mallia. Certainly, I do not question his right to say what he feels like saying, or if he makes a fool of himself in saying it; and I agree that his programme on TVM should not have been removed from TVM’s schedule, but I think that his anger stems not from a matter of principle, but from being denied his TVM programme.

I for one know what it feels like to be excluded from the national broadcaster, and I can say that having a revenue stream denied is one good reason to see red.

Mallia may say that his crusade is all about what he says is corruption in the government. But Mallia is trying to imitate what bloggers do on their website whenever they have a spasm or an impulse. Like them, he loves the sounds of his own voice (they bask in the imprint of their voice). And this is simply not on. I do not call people “assholes” gratuitously, as otherwise I would invite justifiable opprobrium. With Mallia, everyone who disagrees with him is an asshole.

Mallia thinks he has the right to do a Trump and define the new way of doing politics. But Mallia does not have Trump’s following. His only fan is Simon Busuttil it seems. Accompanied by his trusty sausage dog, Mallia once again yesterday haughtily called the Maltese public ignorant. And that says it all. He is good fun for the press, but behind that burst and flurry of monosyllables Salvu Mallia is turning out into Simon Busuttil’s worst nightmare. 

If Mallia thinks Muscat is an asshole and that anyone who does not agree with this is an asshole too, that’s enough for anybody with a mind to question whether or not he has lost the plot.

Mallia also has no idea of what a political party is all about. Political parties are not always pots of simmering minestrone. There is diversity but not of this sort.

In my 35 years of politics and journalism, I never recall seeing Salvu Mallia lift a finger or whisper a complaint about corruption or Malta being a tax haven.  From the days of Lorry Sant, the Chambray scandal, or the pre-2013 oil scandal, Mallia’s voice seemed absent. I have a feeling that he did not quite really know what was happening in the country in the last 35 years, even though he had to cut his secondary education short. Frankly, I think he was probably enjoying life while others like us were failing miserably at changing the world.

Which is why Simon Busuttil should stop thinking that Salvu Mallia’s presence is going to get some liberal wing catalysing the PN. This is not 1987, when people of all creeds embraced the PN against the violence and intolerance of the time, as a matter of principle that superseded all other considerations. In 1987, we all clambered to fight against what was making our life intolerable. It was impossible to read In-Nazzjon in public (even purchase a pack of Rothmans ‘blue’). Thuggery and beatings were the norm.

That was 30 years ago, and times have changed. Mallia’s slacks may be loose enough to convince us he is no uptight politico, but his uppity manner is not the way a new politics is built upon. We need some more challenging stuff that makes people think and act.

If the common denominator for any political party is based on how much of an asshole Muscat or Busuttil is, then really it is only a question of time before we elect a Trump as prime minister.

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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