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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Setting the agenda

The PN managing to snatch the initiative from Labour and winning the ‘agenda war’ is a serious setback for Joseph Muscat

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
23 May 2017, 7:38am
Simon Busuttil’s press conference last Wednesday in which he alleged that a substantial sum of money had passed underhand from Keith Schembri to former Allied Newspapers chief, Adrian Hillman, continued to reinforce the agenda
Simon Busuttil’s press conference last Wednesday in which he alleged that a substantial sum of money had passed underhand from Keith Schembri to former Allied Newspapers chief, Adrian Hillman, continued to reinforce the agenda
The latest polls made by this newspaper show not only that Joseph Muscat has completely lost the moral high ground. That is quite obvious. However, they also show that the agenda of the election campaign is being set by the Nationlaist Party. And that should spell big problems for Joseph Muscat.

People are not concerned too much by the Santa Claus spree of the two parties promising heaven on earth. Everyone takes that type of electoral promises with a pinch of salt.

Only 0.7% of PN voters have indicated the economy and personal wealth as a major concern. This figure rises to 16.6% in the case of PL voters. The current administration’s economic successes are the very motivation of Labour’s election campaign (L-Aqwa Zmien)... and yet, this only inspires one-sixth of its party supporters. Surely Muscat is missing a beat.

On the other hand, corruption and/or Panama are the major concern of 72.5% of PN voters and 11.5% of PL voters. Another 18.8% of the latter are very much concerned about ‘lies’ which in practice is the obverse side of the corruption coin. 

What this means is that Muscat has lost control of the agenda in this electoral campaign and the agenda that matters has been set by the PN that is also influencing LP voters in a substantial way.

Simon Busuttil’s press conference last Wednesday in which he alleged that a substantial sum of money had passed underhand from Keith Schembri to former Allied Newspapers chief, Adrian Hillman, continued to reinforce the agenda. 

It is obvious that although there is probably only one source of leaks, these ‘revelations’ are now no longer being exposed by the well-known blogger but are being revealed by Simon Busuttil himself – a ploy intended to continue to boost the PN’s electoral chances. Indeed the blogger has suddenly taken a back seat, confirming that she was always working in tandem with the PN machine.

There might be many more of these revelations in the coming days – with their being ‘revealed’ slowly, slowly, in Chinese torture style. This strategy is very intelligent as it will continue to keep the PN’s agenda on top, pushing to close the gap between the voting intentions for the two main parties.

Whether the gap will be closed completely with the PN surpassing the PL by June 3 is the 60-million-dollar question that makes this apparently serene electoral campaign, one of the most exciting ones in recent history. The excitement lies in the invisible undercurrents, rather than in the useless shouting and sterile screaming that the Maltese electorate has become used to (and immune from) during electoral campaigns.

What is even more interesting is that this is happening even though the PN is practically ignoring the Egrant allegation, for which it is not assuming any responsibility. It has enough ammuntion about corruption without needing to enter into that minefield. 

If the magisterial inquiry about this allegation were to be finalised before June 3, however, this might suddenly change the balance and open up the road to a clear victory to one side or the other. Remember this is the only allegation that Muscat has vehemently denied.

I still believe that this issue will not be resolved by election day and it will be left hovering over all of us – suspended in mid-air, so to speak. Naturally I hope I am wrong and that by June 3 the issue is clearer than ever.

Whatever it is, the PN managing to snatch the initiative from Labour and winning the ‘agenda war’ is a serious setback for Joseph Muscat.

Moreover, traditionally the party that loses the moral high ground loses the election. In 2013, the PN was perceived as having lost the moral high ground – not because some minister was corrupt but because a network of corruption and shady deals thrived during the PN’s tenure of office. Lawrence Gonzi’s personal integrity was never in doubt, but this did not preclude people from judging his performance as one leading to a situation where that shady network blossomed under his very nose.

From this point of view, Joseph Muscat is obviously in a very much worse situation.

Traditionally every new party leader manages to get the support of the majority on his first attempt. This happened with Eddie Fench Adami, Alfred Sant, Lawrence Gonzi and Joseph Muscat in that order. If Simon Busuttil were to lose the election he would negatively buck this trend as it would be the first time since independence that an incumbent beats a new, untried Leader of the Opposition. A month or so ago the impossibility of history repeating itself was a foregone conclusion. It is now not so inevitable.

While this pointer was never a really important factor in the current electoral battle, especially considering Muscat’s once ‘unassailable’ lead, the feeling about this lead is no longer palpable. If it happens, it would be the most incredible electoral upset in the history of Malta. 

But as yet, it is too early to foresee the future – even if it is only just two weeks to go.

Promises, promises

With the situation being what it is, I still cannot understand why the two main political parties are going out of their way by promising so many goodies as if the election result rests on who promises the most.

A friend of mine jokingly told me he wished he could vote for both parties so as to make sure he would not miss any of the goodies.

Joseph Farrugia, director-general of the Malta Employers Association puts it this way: ‘It’s Christmas come early, basically... without the costings and the full fiscal impact’.

I have the feeling that the PN have their costings wrong and are unecessarily giving Muscat the chance to attack their promises that he has described as ‘hilarious’ and even ‘irresponsible’.

This is an interesting paradox. Simon Busuttil insists that this election is not about proposals but about principles – whether Malta refuses to endorse the Joseph Muscat administration on ethical and moral grounds.

Surely, with this in mind, he should have held the reins on this extravagant spate of generous hand-outs. Some of them smack of selling promises to the electorate when the electorate should be thinking of the high moral ground first and foremost.

Must the electorate be corrupted with promises of goodies and tax rebates so as to decide to vote out the Joseph Muscat administration because of corruption?

The mind boggles.

[email protected]

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