A suspended requiem for unelected Edwin Vassallo | Mario Thomas Vassallo

Those who chanted the requiem for Edwin Vassallo may better prepare themselves for an unexpected and unpleasant surprise

Edwin Vassallo
Edwin Vassallo

The political credo of the ‘unsophisticated’ politician whose name is Edwin Vassallo has been the subject of a great number of journalists, bloggers and observers for many years.

He was called all sort of names, including ‘dinosaur’ (Raphael Vassallo, 2020), ‘miserable slug’ and ‘banana’ (Manwel Delia, 2020), ‘bigot’ (Sebastian Tanti Burló, 2021) and a politician whose intelligence is the size of a shrivelled pea (Kristina Chetcuti, 2020).

These abysmal titles by right-wing exponents are added to the incessant mockery of One News reporters who often ridiculed Vassallo for his stance on various areas of policy from IVF to gay marriage, from COVID vouchers to hunting and trappers interests.

After 25 years of service in the House of Representatives, Vassallo’s days in Parliament are over after having failed to secure a Parliamentary seat during the last general election. Many of his staunch critics within the National Party were relieved that he is to be no more. The Party’s establishment worked against Vassallo and other politicians like him who profess their political credo in the Catholic-democratic principles which are at the core of the PN’s raison d’etre.

Over the decades, this self-taught politician whose working office is his own family business in Mosta went through a degrading metamorphosis from the perspective of the the well-paid experts who are commissioned to ‘modernisee’ the PN. From an asset in the 1990s when he served as junior minister responsible for the self-employed sector under the Fenech Adami administration, Vassallo was gradually turned into a liability and, sometimes, an embarrassment for the party which he has always considered as his natural political home.

As soon as the results of the by-elections were evident, many Nationalists chose their own preferred requiem, whether that of Palestrina or Mozart or Cherubini, and chanted it in memory of this unelected, hence defunct, politician. They think that Edwin Vassallo is now out of politics and his speeches on morality, ethics and human values will be silenced for good. They are now freer to change the PN from within by rendering it more liberal and progressive in order for their Party to become electable again.

Little do they know that their requiem for Edwin Vassallo is suspended because the true nature of Edwin Vassallo is to be political. He will continue to be a politician even if his parliamentary seat is no more. For Edwin, politics is not a career but a vocation – a calling if you like. Whereas careers are bound with an office, vocations are for life. Therefore, according to Vassallo’s definition, his political trajectory must continue despite losing his parliamentary seat. The chanting of any requiem is not appropriate at all because the politics of Edwin Vassallo is here to stay.

Notwithstanding a quarter of a century in politics, Edwin Vassallo was never criticized in terms of corrupt practices, power abuse, political patronage, or populist views. Given the dictum that ‘politics is dirty’, it is no easy feat to come clean out of public life where your words and actions are under constant scrutiny.

Vassallo believes in the power of politics but, at the same time, has always been disinterested in the politics of power.

Assessing the relevance of distinguishing between politics and power requires some insights derived from an etymological standpoint. The word “politics” originates from Ancient Greece, meaning “affairs of the cities”. In his epic work Politika, Aristotle wrote at length on the role that politics and the political community must play in bringing about the virtuous life in the citizenry.

Thus, in its Aristotelian exposition, politics was originally linked to virtues, better quality of life and ethical leadership.

However, over the centuries, its inferences grew darker until it reached a stage when politics became equivalent to filth, corruption and viciousness. Such a stark metamorphosis may have been triggered by the introduction of the word “power” from Old French povoir (meaning “the ability to do”) in the 14th century. During this period, the word power started being used to signify strength, vigour and might particularly in battle, as well as to indicate efficacy, control, mastery, lordship, dominion, ability or right to command or control in political and military affairs.

These vocabulary enrichments were epitomised in Nicoló Macchiavelli’s The Prince (1532); a 16th century political treatise that uncovered the bare truth of realpolitik in early modern Europe. This alternative forma mentis to the ideal politik of the ancient Greek philosophers altered the way how the people perceive politics.

Such a negative perspective is reinforced by contemporary experience wherein multitudes of politicians in democratic societies are focused on their own interests and legitimize manipulation, deceit and corrupt practices to retain their orbit of power.

Edwin Vassallo has never been one of the latter. His mission has always been to be truthful to what he believes in. Compromise has never been part of his vocabulary.

Instead, terms like ‘responsibility’, ‘consistency’, ‘loyalty’, ‘dignity’ and ‘solidarity’ are among the most numerous in his political speeches. Adamant to his self-proclaimed maxim “That which is morally wrong is also socially, economically and politically wrong”, Vassallo will not cease to remain an uncomfortable voice for all those who seek power before true politics.

In his last promo leaflet just before the election in March 2022, Vassallo wrote “I prefer not to be elected because I believe in a set of principles rather than to be elected because I believe in nothing.”

Those who chanted the requiem for Edwin Vassallo may better prepare themselves for an unexpected and unpleasant surprise.