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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

A different campaign

The incredible U-turn about this magistrate’s job that was made by the blogger who originally made the allegations, cannot be dismissed as just a fortuitous change of tactics

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
10 May 2017, 9:18am
This time these corruption allegations are the real issue. Indeed they are the only reason why the Prime Minister opted for an early election
This time these corruption allegations are the real issue. Indeed they are the only reason why the Prime Minister opted for an early election
Corruption has figured as an election issue in all electoral campaigns since independence – with the notable exception of the 1998 election called by the then Prime Minister, Alfred Sant, who, having a parliamentary majority of one, refused to be constantly blackmailed by a backbencher called Dom Mintoff.

It is almost an accepted feature of Maltese electoral campaigns: allegations of corruption fly about during election campaigns. Some allegations are true, others are patently false and others are small grains of sand blown up to look like enormous boulders. The Maltese people have got used to this and on deciding whether to switch their vote from one party to another, the weight they give to such allegations is much less than thought. At least this is my opinion.

Remember, it is those who switch their vote that decide election outcomes in Malta.

This time it is different. The corruption allegation does not concern some particular suspect decisions such as those regarding giving away state property for peanuts, granting of contracts or purchasing whatever the state has to purchase. 

It is different because it concerns the very heart of the state: the people involved in the running of the country from the Prime Minister’s own office, particularly the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri; and the alleged involvement of the Prime Minister’s wife in money flooding in from Azerbaijan – a corrupt country run by a corrupt regime, if there ever was one.

This time these corruption allegations are the real issue. Indeed they are the only reason why the Prime Minister opted for an early election, at least nine months before it was due.

As is normal wherever liberal democracy puts the rule of law above anything else, the allegations are being investigated by an independent member of the judiciary – a magistrate who, according to rumours, seems to be doing a thorough job. 

Incidentally, the incredible U-turn about this magistrate’s job that was made by the blogger who originally made the allegations, cannot be dismissed as just a fortuitous change of tactics. Originally the blogger dismissed the inquiry as a ‘sham’. Then suddenly, she retracted her stated position and forgot her determination to refuse to appear before the magistrate; and of saying nothing in case she is forcibly dragged before him.

As it is, she did accept to appear before him and – apparently – she said much more than ‘hello’. In practically the same breath, the leader of the Opposition opted to pass on to the same magistrate evidence regarding Keith Schembri that he said he had in his possession. He also took the trouble to tell everybody that he had faith in the judicial process. Many have missed this interesting U-turn, and speculation regarding the reason behind it is not part of the talk of the town.

Had this development continued to pile on the pressure for the Prime Minister to call an early election that in practice means losing nine moths of power to gain another five years? Whatever it is, the vote of the Maltese electorate will be cast before the magistrate concludes his unenviable task.

It smacks of Joseph Muscat asking for the verdict of the people’s court before any decision regarding the serious allegations about him and his spouse is taken by the due process of law. 

The main issue – as the Nationalist Party put it – is whether the majority of the electorate opts for a cleaner and more ethical Malta or not. Some might think that the answer to this question is easy and clear. So it should be – but it is not.

I am reminded of the traditional story depicted by the Maltese idiomatic expression ‘kornut kuntent’ – the happy cuckold who knows that his wife’s sexual attributes are being utilised by a ‘friend’ and goes along with it because he is a recipient of the generosity of his wife’s ‘friend’. Or – to be gender neutral – think of the happy contented housewife who, on her husband giving her all that she wants including expensive cars, jewellery and holidays, closes an eye on his relations with his mistress. These are traditional circumstances where for those concerned, money and convenience come before principles. And this is what this election is all about.

This is not about a married person tolerating the occasional wayward behaviour of the spouse but of one accepting being cuckolded as a way of life.

When I hear Joseph Muscat listing the goodies that will be strewn on all and sundry once he is re-elected, I ask myself whether this is the sort of situation where the Maltese people are being encouraged to assert that this is a ‘kornut kuntent’ nation!

This issue is embodied in the electoral slogan of the Labour Party: ‘l-aqwa zmien’ – the best times of our lives. Or is it ‘their’ lives? 

As the lyrics of the song go: ‘And even if hope was shattered / I know it wouldn’t matter / ’Cause these are the moments / These are the times / Let’s make the best out of our lives’

Likewise hearing Simon Busuttil promising irrational and unjustified munificence to Gozitans if he wins the election, I ask myself whether this is because he really thinks it is the just and proper thing to do or because he thinks that Gozitans can be bought with money! The latter idea, of course, never crosses anybody’s mind...

At least the PN’s slogan does refer to the elephant in the room: ‘Jiena naghzel Malta’ – I choose Malta. Instead of what? The unwritten reply is obvious: rather than accepting sleaze as an official way of life so long as I am comfortably off.

This is the situation as I see it at the time of writing. Events tend to precipitate during electoral campaigns, and by the time this makes it to the public on Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised if other sub-plots are revealed.

I call them sub-plots because I understand that both parties have more ammunition about the other’s errant behaviour. Everybody has skeletons in their cupboard and nothing will surprise me.

Unfortunately, these will tend to camouflage the big elephant in the room and forget the main question that this election expects us to answer.

Are we a proud nation that often bends over backwards but still holds on to basic ethical principles, or are we just a ‘kornut kuntent’ people?

[email protected]

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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