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raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

This is an election, not the Nuremberg trials

Ordinary, decent folk do not need to hide their assets or operate in the shadows. The simple (but oh! So irksome!) truth is that politics, in Malta and elsewhere, has attracted the wrong types for far too long

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
9 May 2017, 7:30am
This is an election, not the Nuremberg trials. Voters are also concerned about daily bread-and-butter issues like how much they pay for electricity or rent
This is an election, not the Nuremberg trials. Voters are also concerned about daily bread-and-butter issues like how much they pay for electricity or rent
On Friday I interviewed Arnold Cassola, chair of AD/the Green Party. I had already publicly stated my intention not to vote in this election before the interview; though to be honest, there was something about his sincerity and demeanour that nearly made me change my mind. 

It is no secret that AD would get my number one vote if I did decide to use that prerogative. I have sympathised with their cause for well over 20 years now: so even if my (better) dispassionate self can rise above simple considerations, such as... heck, I like these guys. Why not vote for them, etc.? – there is still that nostalgic, naive part of me that clings to the belief that having decent, ordinary folk in Parliament might actually make the crucial difference.

After all, the problems we are witnessing at the moment are not caused by ordinary decent folk. Ordinary, decent folk do not need to hide their assets or operate in the shadows. The simple (but oh! So irksome!) truth is that politics, in Malta and elsewhere, has attracted the wrong types for far too long. I’d say we’d all benefit by having more academics, schoolteachers, social workers, shopkeepers, gym instructors, computer geeks and part-time plasterers in Parliament. Even doughnut-vendors, if it comes to it. I mean, why not? Why does it always have to be borderline crooks, anyway?

The trouble, however, is that my rational side keeps getting the upper hand. It’s telling me something very different at this stage: i.e., that not a single one of the possible result permutations will make a jot of difference to anything that really matters.

I can’t argue with that rational side right now. Not because I don’t want to. We all prefer to hear interpretations that chime in with our own expectations, desires and preconceived notions. I am certainly no exception to that rule. It’s just that, on this occasion, no such interpretation appears to even exist. 

When the country receives a definitive result on 4 June – whatever time that may materialise, and whatever the result may be – nothing substantial will have actually changed. We will have another democratically-elected government (single-party, coalition, whatever) which will go on to selectively implement only those parts of its manifesto that suit its own purposes... and you can rest assured they will not include all those grandiloquent promises of earth-shattering reforms. Those will simply fizzle away into nothingness within a month. 

There is a reason for this, too: implementing any truly significant Constitutional reform can only translate into a government pro-actively deciding to weaken itself, and to strengthen the institutions that exist to keep it in check. No government will ever do this willingly. And because the flaw lies directly in the document that delineates the parameters of the State itself... there is no legal, institutional way a government can be forced to act against its will. 

The only way it can be achieved is by somehow short-circuiting the system (Note: As we speak I am racking my brains to come up with an acceptable, non-violent method. Nothing’s come to mind so far.).

Certainly an election will not and cannot help. Ironically, this much emerged from the Cassola interview itself. At one point he reminded me that MaltaToday’s latest polls point towards a Muscat victory over the combined forces of the PN, PD, and even AD (if the coalition negotiations had not broken down). For all the furore over the Panama Papers, the Egrant ’whodunnit’ and the investigations over kickbacks from the sale of passports... Labour is still ahead in the polls by over 8,000 votes. Muscat himself remains more trusted than Busuttil in every age-group except the 55+ bracket (where Busuttil is ahead by a whisker). 

Admittedly, these are transient indicators:  our polls are not infallible, there is a margin of error, past success is no guarantee of future performance, and all that. It also bears mentioning that the survey itself was conducted at the height of the Egrant accusations; the lie of the land may have changed slightly since then.

But I also know for a fact that other internal polls point broadly in the same direction. In any case, these are the only indicators we have at present. And they do not surprise me in the least, though there seemed to be a glimmer of astonishment on Cassola’s face when he quoted them.

The question I asked the Green Party leader – how does he account for Muscat’s continued trust by the electorate, in spite of everything – is one that should, I think, be directed to everyone at this point. 

It is far too early for me to go into ‘I told you so’ mode – for all I know, Muscat might lose by a landslide on 3 June – but from the very beginning of this saga around three weeks ago, I have consistently argued that allegations of this nature should NOT form the basis of an electoral campaign. 

I won’t bother digging up the original Facebook comment, but I described it as (roughly): shifting the battlefield from where Muscat was weak – i.e., forensic, clinical evidence – and onto terrain where he was (and still is) undeniably the stronger of the two party leaders. Electioneering. Campaigning. Any form of platform on which Joseph Muscat can do the one thing he is truly good at: i.e., performing the fine theatrical act that is ‘politics’.

How can anyone therefore be surprised if he goes on to win? He’s good at winning elections. He’s proved that in the past. And how could anyone have argued – as so many people did with me over the past two weeks – that ‘the only important thing is that Muscat resigns?’... or ‘that we vote Muscat out in the election?’... or (even more shockingly) that ‘this is a court of public opinion’? 

That is entirely the point. The ‘court of public opinion’ is the one court where Muscat is by far the likeliest to win. It is also the one court in which he should never have been tried for corruption in the first place. 

Apart from the reasons I hope I already made abundantly clear above, there is another which is even more crucial. By definition, an election cannot be used as a yardstick to judge a single issue. It is in the nature of elections to be contested over a whole concatenation of issues, ranging from the exceedingly important to the exceedingly trivial. People are currently accusing Joseph Muscat of ‘diverting attention from the real issue’ when he tries to steer the debate away from Panama. Well, sorry, but it isn’t as straightforward as that. 

This is an election, not the Nuremberg trials. Voters are also concerned about daily bread-and-butter issues like how much they pay for electricity or rent. Wages, pensions, etc. There is still the giant elephant in the room called ‘immigration’. All along, we’ve forgotten there is a fifth party on the ballot sheet, Allejanza Patrjotti... and traditionally, that type of party underperforms in the polls (look under ‘Lowell, Norman’ in European elections for further details).

The bottom line is, none of the stuff we’ve been bickering about incessantly for the past 20 years is just going to shrivel up and fade away... simply because YOU feel there are more important issues to be discussed right now. 

In fact, this is something else that is repeatedly picked up by polls over the years (not just ours). Corruption, governance, and all that jazz do not top the list of popular concerns in Malta. And guess what? Popular concerns are what dictate election results, not the private political fetish of the moment.

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