A melting pot of sycophants, opportunists, misplaced loyalty and too much pride

The right to protest should never be attacked by people who try to intimidate others through the publication of their photo on social media, which is an indirect invitation for others to lash out against the ‘target’

I remember during the last few Mintoff years when things were really going haywire, I would meet Labour voters who would look around furtively and whisper almost guiltily about how much they did not agree with the state of the country and the new policies of “il-Prim”. Invariably, there would be the occasional indignant reaction by those who remained steadfastly loyal to Mintoff until the end: how dare you criticise him “after all he has done!”

Fast forward to 2023, and this mindset is still prevalent today; while sometimes it is voiced by people who genuinely love their party and cannot bear to hear a word against it, at other times… well, let’s just say that there are vested interests at stake. The comment posted on Facebook, and which caused such commotion, against a protestor (who owns a popular family restaurant) who took part in the demonstration outside Parliament, is a case in point. A PL supporter, Matthew Bongailas called for a boycott of the restaurant, publishing a photo of the protest and circling the man’s face in red, claiming that: “The owner of the Il-Barri restaurant during the protest was heard saying obscene words about the government and Labour supporters.” He then added, “Good to know that’s your thanks to the Prime Minister for keeping your business alive during the pandemic, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

There are so many things wrong with this whole incident that I don’t know where to start.

First of all, the right to protest should never be attacked by people who try to intimidate others through the publication of their photo on social media, which is an indirect invitation for others to lash out against the ‘target’. This is a dangerous practice which we have seen before when private individuals have been dragged through the mud unfairly, inciting hatred, and it needs to stop.

Secondly, a boycott would only really be justified if the owner of the establishment were guilty of a serious transgression – you know, like treating staff like slaves and not paying them, or cheating on his taxes or not paying VAT, or for being a crook, making money illicitly and using the place as a front for money laundering. But trying to ruin someone’s business for insulting the Government? I hardly think that really falls under the realm of calling for a legitimate boycott. 

Another thing which really rubs me the wrong way is this habit of people saying we should “thank” the PM, for what amounts to him doing his job. It is true that (save for a few hiccups) he steered the country relatively well and kept the economy on an even keel during the pandemic. But why should we be grateful or grovel at the feet of politicians…? We elect them to administer the country, to hopefully make wise decisions at times of crisis and to use the money in the national coffers sensibly, as needed, and in this case they did just that. But Bongailas’s scolding tone harks back to the Mintoff era when he conditioned people to treat him like a benevolent papà who doled out sweets and patted us on the head if we were good little children who obeyed (and God help you if you dared to talked back).

Of course, Labour supporters who feel so passionately are still free not to frequent the restaurant, but that idea kind of fizzled out when the Prime Minister himself announced he would still go to the restaurant, basically torpedoing the whole thing. 

Where Bongailas really put his foot in it, however, is when, after a few quick taps on a keyboard, it was quickly learned that this same man owns a company which has been the beneficiary of several direct orders from the Government. Bongailas Construction, received 15 direct orders worth around €2 million from Infrastructure Malta in just a few months back in 2021. Bella la vita!

Ok, granted, learning that someone who defends the government so hotly and publicly is doing so because, financially, they have a lot to lose, is not exactly earth-shattering news in Malta. We have been there, done that, and bought the PL-PN T-shirts. Since 1971 we have had 16 years of Labour, 25 years of Nationalists (interrupted by a short-lived blip of a Labour Government under Alfred Sant in 1996-1998) and now another 10 years of Labour. What battle-weary voters have become resigned to after all this time is that things have not changed. There will always be opportunists who gravitate towards those in power, knowing that their blind support and fierce defence of those running the country is their golden ticket. The only politician who seriously tried to nip the culture of political patronage in the bud was Sant (which probably explains why he didn’t last).

The difference between now and previous administrations, however, is that while in the past there were those who used to try and craftily play both sides and somehow got away with it, these days the blatant connections between politicians and their sycophants have become much easier to establish because some people foolishly provide the information themselves. A cursory look at his timeline shows Bongailas with a beaming Robert Abela and the fact that he is a diehard party activist. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the news that he received a number of direct orders puts a whole different spin on his outburst.

The Bongailases of this world will always exist and in a way they are ‘easier’ to understand. It is a purely mercenary transaction – I scratch your back, you channel lucrative contracts my way. It is so ingrained that there are those who even protest at the word ‘corruption’, insisting that it is simply the way things operate in Malta. Well, uhm, yeah, that is the problem.

But the sector of Malta which is more difficult to fathom are those voters who are not getting the millions of euros and yet will continue to defend the Labour Party till their dying breath. It is exasperating and yet fascinating at the same time. Over time, I have concluded that the reason some still keep defending dishonest politicians is often due to pride and not wanting to admit that one got it wrong by voting for them. I think if we can let go of this pride it will represent a shift in mentality... after all, being betrayed by someone you believed would be good for the country has probably happened to everyone on both sides at some point. The way I see it, if a politician has let you down and disappointed you because once in power they forgot all their principles and changed… it’s THEIR behaviour which is at fault, so I don’t see any reason why a voter should still feel obligated to loyally support them. 

Another reason that prevents people from denouncing what is wrong is that they are afraid of being labelled PN simply because they criticise Labour (or vice-versa). It’s such a tedious, childish habit that I just can’t even deal with it anymore. 

There is also the prevalent “ma npaxxuhomx” mindset; that staunch refusal to give the other side the satisfaction of gloating that they were right. So some voters just dig in their heels, live in denial and will keep coming up with counter examples of what the others did wrong… even if they have to stretch back to many decades ago, grasping at straws, to come up with a comparable example.

What I don’t get about this is: wasn’t that the whole point of voting in a fresh new party in 2013, so that things would change? Or are some people willing to close a blind eye to the corruption because at least it is “our” side making the money (which is probably the most convoluted piece of reasoning I have ever encountered). When people reason like this, they will shut their ears and put up a wall when you tell them that every Euro which has gone into deep pockets is one less Euro which could go towards much needed improvements in their quality of life. Penetrating that wall is the biggest challenge to changing this mindset.

On the other hand, it should not go unnoticed that there are more and more people saying they will not vote; in the last survey this has grown to a sizeable 23.9%. In that survey Labour had gained and was still leading, however much has changed since then – specifically the Court judgement which nullified the Vitals/Steward deal and vindicated the stand of the Opposition. And, in an even more significant shift, there is a growing segment of people who had entrusted Labour with their vote who are becoming more and more vocal about their disillusionment and utter disgust at how badly the party has let the country down.