And for the next act...

Gonzi’s speech was a justification of all that he did with a ‘je ne regrette rien’ underlying message – no Brazilian gaffes, of course!

The political drama is never-ending. That is why, perhaps, it tends to keep repeating itself over the years. The defeat of the budget vote and the dissolution of parliament were the end of an Act, certainly not the final curtain. In politics, there is no such thing.

It ended up pretty much as was expected; to the extent that the unusual event uncannily lacked any grand dramatic effect. It turned out to be practically a soap opera; even though, we have not had an administration failing to gain parliament's approval for its budget proposals for over sixty years. And certainly not since Independence in 1964.

The Prime Minister's decision to dedicate his last speech in parliament to listing his administration's achievements - while completely ignoring its manifest failures, awry embarrassments and miscalculations - seems to have set the trend for what we are now seeing and hearing in what is the beginning of the next Act. In fact, the prime minister has already found the opportunity to practically repeat his speech one or two times after Monday's historic vote. That speech was perhaps a sort of 'apologia pro vita sua' - a catalogue of areas and circumstances in which he confidently feels his was a successful administration. It was a justification of all that he did with a 'je ne regrette rien' underlying message. No Brazilian gaffes, of course!

Yet it must take much more than that for the PN to keep closing the gap in the approval ratings between it and Labour and possibly overtake it by 9 March.

The lines have been drawn and the two parties have already charted their way forward. The festive season lull will only serve the party machineries to fine-tune what must be essentially a course of action that has already been decided upon. This does not mean that there will not be any unforeseen surprises during the election campaign; there always are. As in every election, rumours abound of secret weapons in the form of unknown scandals tarnishing one side or the other. These are said to be planned to be revealed at the time when they prove to be most effective during the electoral campaign: not too early and not too late either. Their significance is normally marginal, but it becomes extremely important when the gap between the parties is very slight, as it was five years ago.

The first scene of the next Act is therefore simply a review of what happened in the last five years, with Labour remembering only the negative and the PN remembering only the positive. This is basically what Lawrence Gonzi and Joseph Muscat will be doing in the few days until the agreed festive season lull takes precedence over the political sparring. The real, no holds barred match starts on 7 January. It is what will happen after that date that will determine the effectiveness of the real messages of the electoral campaign.

Surely, Lawrence Gonzi cannot just simply keep on showering all sorts of negative attributes on Muscat's Labour and promise more of the same - more so as the way this 'same' was delivered is the real reason why the PN fell so far behind Labour in the polls.

Joseph Muscat, on the other hand, cannot keep on showering all sorts of negative attributes on GonziPN and making vague promises that sound attractive and popular but are hardly backed with any concrete facts.

After 7 January, both parties will have to bite the bullet. It will be the time for them to tell the electorate what their vision for the future is, and what they propose to do in order to attain it. Frankly, up to now I have not heard of any inspiring ideas for future initiatives and proposals coming from any of the two sides. This lack of inspiration is leaving many cold, with only the party faithful approving their leaders. But they always do so, under any circumstances!

Joseph Muscat has maturely indicated that he will retain those of the present administration's polices that have had such a beneficial and positive effect on the Maltese economy. But this begs the question: why should entrusting Labour to carry out the PN's policies be any better than sticking on to the PN to carry them out? Muscat must clearly spell out in detail (rather than in vague clichés) the edge he thinks Labour has over the PN - and this has not yet happened. How will he be doing it? How will he be able to persuade the floating voter that his promise to reduce electricity tariffs is not an electoral gimmick but is the fruit of serious thinking?

Lawrence Gonzi cannot just shed the 'GonziPN' mantle and sell the same old product - considered to be dreary and overused by some - decorated with spanking new wrapping paper. People must be convinced that change within the PN is not just a permanently intangible hope, but much more. How Lawrence Gonzi can do this, while sticking to the attitude he adopted in his speech last Monday and in subsequent speeches, is beyond me. In other words, if it has been so good for the country, why does the PN need to promise change? This is the biggest - and most confusing - conundrum that the PN electoral campaign will be seeking to resolve, in some way or another.

How can Lawrence Gonzi persuade people that change within the PN is now really on the cards - especially with Simon Busuttil's election to Deputy Leader - and, as a result,  assuage those who have felt that the PN under Lawrence Gonzi had become too much of an exclusive party? How can Simon Busuttil persuade people that the PN can muster a dramatic change of heart, without having to go to the Opposition benches?

These are the questions that must be answered in the nine weeks or so between 7 January and 9 March. I have no doubt that the two parties have already plotted the strategy leading to their delivering the answers.

How much these questions will be satisfactorily and effectively answered will have an enormous bearing on the result of the election, come 10 March.


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