It’s the end of the world as we know it

The end of the Mayan calendar has been surpassed and the end of the world has not come to pass.

 

Yet, even though there is never anything new under the sun, the end of 2012 could paradoxically signify the end of the world as we know it... at least in Malta.

It is the old world of the power game and the familiar background of Maltese political 'rivalry' that is under threat. The recent changes in the leadership set-up of both the PN and the PL signify a possibly new style in which the old ball game will be played - hence the new world that will welcome Malta on 1 January.

On 9 March, the few Maltese who do not always blindly vote for their party whatever the circumstances, but try to make sense out of the democratic exercise that is their right, will now have an interesting decision to take. It seems that from having to choose between the lesser of two evils, the choice is slowly moving to one between the fresher of two dreams; jaded though they might be, and certainly not inspiring visions.

The applecart was upset by Joseph Muscat's decision to sack his deputy, Anglu Farrugia, and replace him by Louis Grech. It was a bold move that could yet pay dividends. Irrespective of the reason that Muscat put forward to justify his asking Farrugia to resign, a reason that is probably an excuse that makes sense, Anglu Farrugia's pathetic and lacklustre performance on that fateful 'Xarabank' edition was the real reason why Muscat could not afford to carry on with business as usual.

The sort of people whose vote Labour desperately needs to lure could not stomach Anglu's performance. For them the big question whether this country deserves to have a Deputy Prime Minister of that poor calibre suddenly assumed incredible importance. People were talking about the 'lesser of two evils' to the extent that suddenly Muscat's fortunes took a turn to the worse.

Whatever the PN strategists say, Muscat's decision to act has put the issue to rest: the thorny question need not be asked any more. Muscat's ruthless treatment of Anglu Farrugia ran roughshod over the feelings of Labour's grassroots, the same grassroots that barely four years ago had chosen Farrugia to be Muscat's deputy. For the traditional Labour voter the world, as they knew it, is over. They cannot realise that without renouncing their stupid short-sighted ideas that are nothing but the appendages of a bygone Mintoffian era, their party does not stand a chance to get an electoral victory. Muscat and his team realise this, and they were prepared to go the whole hog to get the party out of the rigid straightjacket in which the average rabid Labour supporter found it so comfortable.

For the PN strategic and electoral machine it also seems to be the end of the world as they know it. After the clever move of electing Simon Busuttil to be Gonzi's deputy, a move made with panache and style - after the incumbent was kicked upstairs rather than having his head ruthlessly chopped off - Muscat's move must have been quite a surprise. I am sure that no one among the PN strategists had entertained that possibility.

Alfred Sant's rigid stances that led the PN strategists to foresee all his possible moves and hence were so convenient for them are no more. Muscat is more flexible and is ready to bend over backwards to win the game.

I had already reckoned that the real electoral 'battle' was to starts in earnest come January 7 and that the initial skirmishes before Christmas were just exercises aimed at aligning the troops. Muscat's move was not part of my calculations.

This does not mean that the battle has been won and lost, of course. Muscat has told the electorate what he does not stand for. That is good, but not enough. He must now tell the electorate what he stands for - an area where his message has been vague and full of meaningless clichés. Muscat now urgently needs to send the positive message: not hazy notions on his ability to deliver but what he is actually promising to deliver and how; as well as more details on where his administration will correct things. He has to persuade disgruntled Nationalist voters that his is a serious alternative. Unless he has a clear strategy on how to do this, the lead Labour has in the polls will keep on decreasing and Malta will end with yet another electoral 'photo finish'.

At the same time, the PN cannot keep relying on rubbishing 'old Labour'. It has to be positive about its future plans and its 'vision' for Malta, if such a thing exists. The problem, as I said when Simon Busuttil was elected PN Deputy Leader, is that Busuttil's input has to show more than a glimmer of hope for change. This is impossible if at the same time that Busuttil promises change, Lawrence Gonzi keeps on insisting that he has done all the right things in all circumstances. Unless Gonzi eats some humble pie and comes clean about his not always having been right by admitting mistakes, the disgruntled voters will continue to keep their distance from the party. It is this conundrum that will keep haunting the PN during the electoral campaign.

The election will therefore not be fought on the well-trodden path of previous electoral battles: arguments about the past! We might start arguing about the future - something we have only done when the majority opted for Malta to join the EU. But that was more of an exception than the rule.

The silver lining around the current cloudy political atmosphere is that it does seem that the country has finally begun to shake off the ghosts of the past. At the end of the day, we might be heading for a 'normal' election campaign, where political parties push their programmes for the future rather than make accusations and play the blame game.

Muscat's surprising but unorthodox move in removing his deputy from his party's pecking order might eventually turn out to be the watershed moment when Labour's politics really returned to normality and this country started to let bygones be bygones.

It might be just a pipedream of mine. Hopefully, it is really the end of the world as we know it.

*  *  *

May I take this opportunity to wish the editor and staff of MaltaToday and all readers a very happy and prosperous New Year.

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