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Frank Psaila

Labour’s missed opportunity

Joseph Muscat is confident that he’ll pull it off again. His body language says otherwise

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Frank Psaila
9 May 2017, 7:30am
Should Muscat manage to pull it off, he’ll face the music then, should the inquiry prove the grave allegations made in his, and his spouse’s regard
Should Muscat manage to pull it off, he’ll face the music then, should the inquiry prove the grave allegations made in his, and his spouse’s regard
The smell of corruption around this government is so overpowering it seems to have anesthetized all within the Labour party – save for a few brave ones, notably Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia.

The last few weeks were Labour’s best chance to unseat Joseph Muscat and save its skin, and soul. They failed miserably. One day, it could be in three weeks’ time, or in a few months’ time, should Muscat pull it off again, they will come to regret it. For no one is greater than the country which he is elected to serve and no leader is greater than the party which he leads. Muscat’s delusions of grandeur will come to haunt the party which failed to rein him in.

Unashamedly Muscat blames the Nationalist Party for the current political crisis, which led to an early election. Next month’s election is a capricious decision by Muscat to save his skin. He rushed to the polls a few days after he put himself, and his spouse, under a magisterial inquiry. Magisterial inquiries take time. It is unlikely that Magistrate Aaron Bugeja will conclude his inquiry in less than a month’s time. By then, the election will be over.

Should Muscat manage to pull it off, he’ll face the music then, should the inquiry prove the grave allegations made in his, and his spouse’s regard. He’s certain that it will prove them innocent. But his actions speak otherwise. 

This snap election is Muscat’s emergency exit after he planted himself in a tight corner. He couldn’t afford to remain under the dark clouds of the Panama scandal. An election campaign gives him the opportunity to put the focus elsewhere. He’s trying hard to shift focus. On the first day of the campaign, accompanied by Edward Scicluna, his Finance Minister, who is risking his reputation by sticking his neck out for his Prime Minister, he promised that next time round he’ll rebuild every single road in Malta and Gozo.

He’ll do so by selling Maltese passports. Brian Tonna, of Nexia BT, who, amongst many hats, sells passports for a living, would be a very happy man should Muscat get a second term. On day two, he announced tax cuts across the board. Tax cuts are welcome, of course, but they need to be sustainable. But who cares about financial sustainability? Not the Prime Minister. He must win next month’s election. 

Now he tells us that what we’re going through is the ‘best time ever’ (L-Aqwa Zmien ta’ Pajjizna). I hate to think what bad times would look like if these are glorious days. Extraordinary circumstances indeed. Who would have thought that, after Labour’s mammoth victory in 2013, Malta would go to the polls a year before schedule. Unlike Theresa May, who called a general election three years before schedule, to strengthen her hand within her party and attempt, probably unsuccessfully, to get an upper hand in the Brexit negotiations, Muscat had a comfortable majority in Parliament and an undisputed hold over his party. That came crashing down when his government’s connection to the Panama Papers scandal made international headlines last year. Since then, calls, locally and internationally, have been made for the Muscat administration to come clean, and, recently, for the Prime Minister to step down. 

Once the darling of the independent media, he came under fire to the point that he started avoiding journalists through emergency exits. The situation became unsustainable. Instead of doing the right thing and stepping aside pending the magisterial inquiry, Muscat announced a snap election. People are up in arms, and rightly so, because an early election, in summer, bang in the middle of the exams period for thousands of students, disrupting hundreds of weddings and the Holy Communion weekend and village feasts, was uncalled for. 

Muscat is confident that he’ll pull it off again. His body language says otherwise. The calm and collected Muscat of 2013 has been replaced with a Prime Minister visibly under pressure. He no longer panders to the ‘middle class’ and the ‘switchers’, instead he is campaigning hard to retain Labour’s core vote. To prove that point, he’ll be contesting the Labour strongholds of Cottonera, Birzebbugia and Zurrieq amongst others. 

This election is a do-or-die affair for Muscat. He must win it at all costs. It would be catastrophic for Labour to lose following a resounding victory barely four years ago. If Muscat really had his party’s interest at heart, he would have stepped aside and allowed Labour to contest a 2018 election under the helm of a new leader. The likes of Miriam Dalli, Robert Abela and Edward Zammit Lewis would have probably stepped in to save Labour’s fate and skin. Thousands of well-meaning Labour supporters waited over two decades to see their party back in government. True, they owe it to Muscat for making Labour electable again, but he now risks being their party’s downfall. And even if Muscat manages a second term, Labour has been rocked to its core by the grave allegations made against its leader and his closest aides – Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. 

The key question for Labour and Maltese voters is: can Joseph Muscat be trusted again on what matters most in a democracy and for a functioning economy – transparency? Or will a second term be a repetition of its first one – non-stop allegations of corruption and financial wrongdoing?

Frank Psaila presents Iswed Fuq Abjad on Net TV

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