Speak, Salvu, warts and all

Salvu Mallia speaks to the people. And the people are listening

Love him or hate him, one thing is certain, Salvu Mallia represents many a disgruntled voter, especially those who, in 2013, like him, voted Labour
Love him or hate him, one thing is certain, Salvu Mallia represents many a disgruntled voter, especially those who, in 2013, like him, voted Labour

You could describe him as a maverick now within an existing political structure – the Nationalist Party – with his own rhetorical recipe for getting his message across. You could define him as a Schrodinger douchebag, someone who makes unacceptable remarks and then waits to see the reaction before qualifying his remarks. But once you unpack his public language, you find out what makes him tick: Having voted Labour in 2013, he now feels duped. 

Recently, he admitted that it took him five minutes to convince himself to vote Labour in 2013 – having seen Labour candidate Edward Scicluna, handpicked by Joseph Muscat to be the acceptable face of Labour, casting his vote at the Birkirkara primary school thus exposing himself to the not so unjustifiable accusation of political naivety. But then, voters often act emotionally and on the spur of the moment. 

Fast forward to today, and whilst Labour remains a clear favourite – according to opinion polls carried by this newspaper and others – many, and that is an understatement – are disappointed and angry, very angry with Labour’s performance. The gap between Muscat’s pre-electoral promises and the facts on the ground became insupportably wide. His refusal to fire Konrad Mizzi over the Panama Papers scandal – add to that the outrageous, ‘I-don’t-care-what-you-think’ attitude in appointing Mizzi at the helm of an EU Energy Committee, on day one of Malta’s EU Presidency – angered decent people who, at the very least, expected Mizzi to keep a low profile. 

The Prime Minister seems convinced that as long as the economy is doing well, notwithstanding the fact that thousands still struggle to make ends meet, is a sure enough reason to secure a second term in office in 2018. Only time will tell. Muscat thinks it’s ‘the economy stupid’. Next year, he may find, to his shocking disappointment, that it is ‘corruption stupid’. 

We’re living in an age of anger. People are angry with politicians. Their failure to deliver on matters that are important to them; their sheer arrogance; their empty promises. Which explains why Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil was right when he lashed out at Jean Claude Juncker and his Commission’s ‘who-cares’ attitude when faced with disgraced Minister Konrad Mizzi’s offshore secret account. Perhaps, Juncker’s Commission sought to be impartial when faced with an erring minister in one of its member states. However, impartiality does not mean neutrality when it comes to the facts and evidence. And facts and evidence there are – secret accounts were opened in an offshore tax haven a few days after taking an oath of office. 

The same could be said of the new EP President, Antonio Tajani. On Tuesday evening, a few minutes after his election in Strasbourg, I asked him how he intended to bridge the widening gap between EU institutions and its citizens. He promised that that would be one of his main priorities. On his first outing, he widened it. The following day, flanked by Prime Minister Muscat, in a joint press conference, Tajani announced that now that he was President, he was backtracking from his criticism on Malta’s Panama papers. 

The Prime Minister, and a handful of political commentators, objected to Busuttil’s outburst, in front of Juncker, in Parliament, on day one of the Maltese EU Presidency. Erudite University professor Mark Anthony Falzon, writing in The Sunday Times, thought that Busuttil should have used the occasion to brag, and rightly so, about the Nationalist Party vision, and persistence, despite vociferous opposition from Labour, in securing Malta’s place in the EU.

Falzon is right. That would have been an appropriate occasion for Busuttil to do so. However, the moment called for calling a spade by its name: Juncker, and his men and women, failed in chastising the Maltese government’s support of its erring minister. It is inconceivable that on one hand, the EU legislates against tax evasion, and then stays put when an EU minister opens a secret account in a tax haven. The same could be said about illegal migration and the Juncker’s Commission endless promises to take meaningful action. Instead, we are lumped with an army of men and women, and their endless entourages, being paid millions of euros in salaries, from taxpayers’ money, who prefer talk to action. 

In Parliament, Simon Busuttil did what is expected of him: speak on behalf of thousands of Maltese citizens, but also other European citizens, who are angry with Juncker and his team. As for the Prime Minister, he took exception to Busuttil’s outburst because ‘Mr Juncker was our guest, and it’s not on to criticise your guests’, he told a crowd of party supporters in Marsascala last Sunday. Now, that is a very servile attitude which boggles the mind. Juncker and his Commission are no guests. Malta is heading the EU Presidency and unless Malta strives to turn the tide, our Presidency would be meaningless and a waste of time. Unless Muscat sees it as a good PR exercise, in which case it’s an utter waste, and abuse, of taxpayers’ money. 

But back to our subject. Salvu Mallia is angry. He voted labour and now feels duped. There are, as often happens, personal, not necessarily justifiable, reasons for his anger. His popular, well-researched, highly entertaining TV programme was taken off the state broadcaster. That added fuel to his fire, though not necessarily a justifiable one to switch your vote, or jump onto the platform of a political party and contest the general election. But that is another matter. He may now revive it on NET TV, following the decision by the Nationalist Party to scrap its wrong policy of banning candidates on its broadcast media.

Mallia manifested his anger through media stunts and Facebook posts. He is now a Nationalist Party election candidate, which explains why his flowery language makes headlines and his news travels fast. Only time will tell whether accepting him as a candidate was a clever move. Someone told me that he would have made an excellent journalist, hounding government ministers, ‘Le Iene’ style; whilst others argue that he made politics interesting again. Others, including many a Nationalist Party supporter, beg to differ, chastising the party’s leadership for having him run on its tickets, describing him as a ‘loose cannon’; that he has a compulsive need to be entertaining – a class clown at heart (although his entertaining personality is a huge part of his appeal), and that he’s not-in-synch with the party’s core values. 

Love him or hate him, one thing is certain, Salvu Mallia represents many a disgruntled voter, especially those who, in 2013, like him, voted Labour. He’s brash, and has an anti-establishment appeal. True, he is a shock to many within the Nationalist Party’s structures. He’s probably a nightmare to the men and women coordinating the Nationalist Party candidates. Candidates are often asked to coordinate their message with the party and avoid haphazard initiatives. Mallia is not the type to work within a structured environment – although that is no excuse for haphazard action. Mallia needs to act strategically too, and use his positive attributes for the wider good of his party. And yes, he must avoid comments, like when he compared himself to Gandhi and Jesus Christ, which sounds vain. 

But then, Salvu Mallia speaks to the people. And the people are listening. So speak, Salvu, warts and all.

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

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