The writing on the wallpaper

As is normal in the political scene in this small island of ours, a government in mid term reaches a low level in popularity

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat would do well to pay more attention to the ‘swing’ voters who he is gradually losing
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat would do well to pay more attention to the ‘swing’ voters who he is gradually losing

The editorial of last Sunday’s issue of the Labour Party weekly Kulħadd is worth a second read. Actually it is just the last three paragraphs that are worth this second read because the main thrust of the editorial itself, and most of it, was simply an exercise of the pot calling the kettle black in the very usual and banal banter between the two main political parties that in Malta goes for political comment.

Nearing the end of his piece, the editorial writer suddenly took a turn to a more serious tone. I wonder whether the attention span of many readers had elapsed by the time they neared the last three paragraphs and did not even bother to read them. Pity. Because these paragraphs summarised the problems the current administration – and hence the Labour Party – is facing with its populist approach attempting to satisfy whatever wishes their ‘supporters’ dream up. 

As is normal in the political scene in this small island of ours, a government in mid term reaches a low level in popularity. In the current situation, Joseph Muscat should have been able to take it in his stride: a massive majority as well as a booming – almost overheating – economy, should make his political survival in 30 months time quite an easy matter. 

Nevertheless, the traditional loyalty of the Maltese electorate has been eroded considerably during the last decade. Some believe that political parties can each rely on only 40 % of the electorate and that the thinking minority – the so-called floating voter – has now gone up to 20%.   

It is these who decide an election, and it is exactly this segment that the current  administration is continuously upsetting by its blatant patrimonialisim. These fickle switchers would be the first to agree that a change was needed in the last election but they are not likely to be too impressed with an economy that is doing well. They take this as for granted from any administration, but they are upset by the perceived widespread abuse perpetrated by a select few who seem untouchable.

To make things worse, this administration sent out many wrong messages in the  first half of its tenure. I need not compile a long list of Gaffarenas, Café Premier and what not, plus the big unfolding mess at Identity Malta.

Loosely translated, the last part of the Kulħadd editorial starts up with the sobering thought that the government made mistakes that it could have avoided – mistakes that should not have been made when the prosperity of the Maltese people is progressing so much. It admits bluntly that certain decisions should not have been taken and declares it believes that within the administration there is no place for those who make gross mistakes.

The editorial then goes on to aver that Labour should not allow greedy and selfish people to undo all its good work. It should tell these people that they should no longer belong to the party because they are like a metal ball tied to the heels of a prisoner.

Finally, the editorial states that it is better to lose the vote of the dishonest than the vote of the honest. There is the possibility that an attempt to keep the vote of one dishonest person would trigger the loss of the votes of a hundred honest persons. It ends up with a dig at the PN by recalling that the way it administered the country led to the dishonest leading the administration crashing into a solid wall.

Sobering thoughts indeed! In fact, I have to admit that I admire the gumption of the editorial writer to express himself in this way in the official Labour Party organ. 

While this is a positive surprise, I think that, in fact, this advice will be more observed in the breach because considering the way the administration is behaving, the perception out here is that the dishonest are getting away with it and the disgusted honest voters who opted for Labour in the 2013 election are feeling confounded.

At the end of the day, the next election will not be fought on the economy. At least I think that the PN has enough sense not to attack Labour on what is undoubtedly its greatest sttrength. So the PN must attack Labour on its lack of ethical standards, or rather, on the innumerable ‘scandals’ that have gone unchecked.

It is perhaps quite ironic that on Monday – the day after the publication of the Kulħadd editorial – the office of the Speaker published the 2016 Ombudsplan which included a survey that indicated that nearly everyone believes that the public administration should be subject to investigation by an autonomous institution and that it should be the Ombudsman who should investigate.

The Ombudsman’s report said that the Ombusman received 402 more complaints in the first eight months of this year compared with the same period in the previous year and that this was the second consecutive annual increase, reversing an earlier downward trend. The most interesting point made by the Ombudsman, however, was on the importance of bodies investigating alleged injustices being autonomous and independent, functioning in a transparent manner and applying rules uniformly. Otherwise redressing certian ‘injustices’ will only serve to create new injustices. 

He also questioned the Opposition’s exercise of registering claims of injustices while promising an investigation once in government. I fully understand where the Ombudsman is coming from: he leads an independent investigative office answerable to Parliament, rather than to the government of the day, and ignoring him leads to the farce of injustices boards being set up every time there is a change in administration.

What the Ombudsman is saying is that complaints against the adminsitration should no longer be a poltical tug-of-war between the two main political parties. Yet the tug-of-war goes on, as can be seen from the Kulħadd editorial and several PN statements.

On this issue, the current admistration would be making a great mistake if it ignores the writing on the wall, or even in its own paper, for that matter.

Will it have the courage to stop this trend of satisfying every whim and fancy of those who claim they are supporters and will it have the courage to draw a line and show more seriousness and less patrimonialism?

The next few months will give us a reply and hence an inkling of Labour’s fortunes in the next election. 

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