Is our obsession with private lives the future of Maltese politics?

This is like some bizarre, freakish Reality Show, in which a family is seen disintegrating through its own eyes… its every argument and dispute filmed on its own members’ iPhones and iPads, and distributed for the gratification of a mesmerized online audience

One thing that makes this a truly unprecedented situation is that all the concerted media and cyber-attacks perpetrated upon Adrian Delia – and I imagine soon also upon his supporters within the party, and vice versa – are being perpetrated by other Nationalists
One thing that makes this a truly unprecedented situation is that all the concerted media and cyber-attacks perpetrated upon Adrian Delia – and I imagine soon also upon his supporters within the party, and vice versa – are being perpetrated by other Nationalists

I’ll say one thing about the year that has just begun: it sure is ambitious. Barely four days old, and already 2019 is attempting to set a whole new world record for media understatement. These, for example, are a few snippets from news stories that have appeared locally (you’ll never guess about what) since 1st January:

“The Nationalist Party appears to be split on after the domestic abuse allegations targeting Dr Delia were spread on social media…”
“…the situation in the party is teetering on the brink of civil war…’

“Delia is currently facing friction within the Nationalist party…”

“Appears to be split”, you say? Do you mean to imply that there is a vague, indistinct possibility of some kind of teenie-weenie little disagreement going on in that party right now? Gee, who would have ever guessed…

And “teetering on the brink of civil war”? ‘’Facing friction”? I mean… thank God we have a free, independent press to inform us of such things. Otherwise, how on earth would we ever get to know that the Opposition party is currently experiencing… ooh, let’s just say ‘a minor spot of bother’, and leave it at that?

But still, let’s give them a little credit for getting at least their perceptions right. Yes, indeed: the PN does ‘appear’ to be split… in the same way as the sky ‘appears’ to be blue, or gravity ‘appears’ to somehow make things fall to the ground. In fact, the situation in that party is beginning to remind me of the situation in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq (only with real instead of imaginary ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’).

Funny, though, how the local media seems to think the PN is less divided than it actually is… seeing as how all the leaks that they themselves are busy publishing, all came from the various factions of disgruntled Nationalists – let me repeat that part: Nationalists: i.e., from within the same party – all hell-bent on politically annihilating their own leader.

Wouldn’t you say that creates a remote outward perception of a possible ‘split’? As does the sudden explosion of social media commentary from exponents of all the PN’s various factions, either to defend or harangue the ‘embattled’ Adrian Delia… in other words, all taking up clear (and conflicting) positions in an ongoing, no-holds-barred war for Delia’s successions: a war for which the battle-lines have long been drawn, and which incidentally is already at quite an advance stage?

I’m beginning to ask myself what it’s going to take, exactly, for certain people to finally wrap their heads around the true extent of the PN’s ghastly, brutal self-evisceration. Drive-by shootings, perhaps? (Don’t laugh: it’s happened before). Or how about Adrian Delia’s bloodied, decapitated head impaled upon a spike above the Stamperija?

Wait, I know: a giant mushroom cloud rising above Pietà. Yes, that would certainly hammer home the reality of the situation once and for all. (Only thing is, we’d all be vaporized in around 2.3 nanoseconds… so it would be a short-lived, if rather belated, ‘moment of truth’.)

Seriously, though. How drastic does the situation have to become, before we progress from talking about the ‘perception’ of that reality, to acknowledging that it actually exists?

Which naturally brings me to the ‘civil war’ part. ‘Teetering on the brink’, my eye. The PN might have been ‘teetering on the brink of a civil war’ in the Lawrence Gonzi-John Dalli leadership race in 2004, for instance. Or during the backbencher revolt that followed. But since then, the party took (sorry, l ‘seems to have taken’) a great stride forward… going from ‘teetering’, to ‘keeling’, to ‘waving its arms around in sudden panic’, to ‘losing its footing and hurtling over the edge with an echoing shriek’.

The time for ‘teetering’, I would say, is long past…

OK, by this stage you might be itching to point out that I, too, am stating the obvious… and laying on the sarcasm a little thick, too. And yes, I may well be over-labouring the point.

But I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say that I honestly don’t understand what the Maltese media (or sections thereof, at any rate: the ones I have in mind right now are Lovin’ Malta and The Times) are actually playing at here.

Why do they try and minimize the actuality of a story that they broke themselves… and which is also shaping up to be the great newsmaker of the next few weeks at least? Possibly months, maybe even years… heck, it even has the makings of a story that may change the entire course of Maltese political history as we know it.

Major political parties don’t just spontaneously combust like this every day, you know. Something tells me the tremors of this ongoing earthquake will continue to be felt for decades to come… in the same way as the demise of the Constitutional Party reshaped Maltese politics in the post-war years leading to Independence.

There is, in fact, much more than a fair chance that Malta’s political landscape will look very different in just a few years’ time; and that what we are witnessing today is but the beginning of the major cataclysm.

But let’s not race too far ahead. Going only on the situation as it stands today: I don’t think any local political party leader has ever faced quite the same sort of ‘friction’ or ‘pressure’ Adrian Delia is now under. And I say this merely as a statement of fact, by the way; and not necessarily to ‘defend’ Delia himself (Note: it is indicative that I even feel the need to point this out. In war situations, ‘not to attack’ is often indistinguishable from ‘to defend’). For all I know, the Opposition leader might really be the wife- and child-beating monster into which he ‘seems to have’ suddenly metamorphosed. Maybe he really is running around with his pockets stuffed with ill-gotten booty from the PN’s coffers, as some party bigwig has (apparently) claimed.

What I do know, however, is that both those claims have yet to be proven. The first is a statement made in court during what is clearly an acrimonious marital break-up (erm… did I mention ‘understatements’ earlier?); and no offence to anyone concerned, but claims uttered in such situations always need to be handled with the utmost caution, for reasons that are too obvious to even spell out.

Again, the closest historical equivalent remains Sant, whose 96-98 government was brought to an end by one of its own backbenchers, Dom Mintoff
Again, the closest historical equivalent remains Sant, whose 96-98 government was brought to an end by one of its own backbenchers, Dom Mintoff

The second ‘appears to be’ an entirely gratuitous and unsubstantiated remark made by an anonymous ‘party insider’, who – merely by virtue of being also embroiled in a tumultuous civil war – obviously has an anti-Delia axe to grind.

All the same: as with all other unproven allegations, I will leave them both in the hands of ongoing judicial processes (which now also include a libel case against Lovin Malta by Adrian Delia). What I find truly unprecedented in all this, however, is the sheer extent to which attempts are now being made to utterly demolish what is left of the man himself.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: Maltese politics has never exactly been timid or bashful when it comes to political confrontation, and even all-out character assassination. Yet the only analogous past situation I could think up off-hand (if you don’t include the Borg Olivier saga, which was before my time) was the campaign against Alfred Sant… which had also extended to private, family-related affairs: for instance, by quoting from his separation proceedings, 20 years earlier, in newspaper headlines.

Back then, this sortie into previously uncharted political waters was considered ‘unacceptable’ enough for The Malta Independent’s board of directors to immediately sack editor Ray Bugeja. I worked for that newspaper at the time (around ’98), and I had mixed feelings about Bugeja’s abrupt dismissal. But looked back on today, and compared to what is now being published and circulated about Delia… to be honest, it makes me laugh.

This time round, it is not just ‘court documents’ that are being rifled through in search of juicy tidbits to spice up a smear campaign. This time round, Delia has very clearly been the victim of a cyber-attack. His mobile phone has been hacked – which is not only disturbing in itself, but also illegal – and his private WhatsApp conversations are doing the rounds on the social media as we speak (which yet again reminds me: ‘Get WhatsApp’, they said… ‘it’s safe and secure’, they said…)

It is in this sense that I have quite frankly never seen anything like it, in some 20 years of following the local political scene. I have seen party leaders discredited before, certainly… with everything thrown at them but the kitchen sink. But this is different. This is like some bizarre, freakish Reality Show, in which a family is seen disintegrating through its own eyes… its every argument and dispute filmed on its own members’ iPhones and iPads, and distributed for the gratification of a mesmerized online audience. Will he call his daughter a ‘bitch’ again this time? Or just a ‘kabocca’, like the time before? And who will get voted out first? Oh, I just can’t wait for the next episode of ‘Un Altro Giorno in Casa Delia’…

I mean, honestly. To think that, in just 60 years, we went from debating notions of Statehood and self-determination to… this. It almost makes up for the fact that I won’t actually be around to witness all the next 60 years, and beyond. (There is, after all, only such melodrama a man can take…)

One other thing that makes this a truly unprecedented situation is that all the concerted media and cyber-attacks perpetrated upon Adrian Delia – and I imagine soon also upon his supporters within the party, and vice versa – are being perpetrated by other Nationalists.

Again, the closest historical equivalent remains Sant, whose 96-98 government was brought to an end by one of its own backbenchers, Dom Mintoff. But it’s hardly comparable on any other level. Mintoff was alone and isolated within Labour at the time; he didn’t represent one of at least four ‘anti-Sant’ factions, all trying to undermine their own leader at once. And I don’t recall any delving into family affairs, either. That’s a threshold of political warfare we ‘seem to have’ crossed a good deal more recently.

But we’ve well and truly crossed it now, and – like the Rubicon – there can be no turning back. The future of Maltese politics now clearly lies in the direction of an increasingly invasive, borderline-criminal obsession with ‘the private life of the Maltese politician’; and, what’s more, the country’s largest Opposition Party has now inflicted onto itself the sort of internal haemorrhage-inducing wounds that will simply never, ever heal.

And to conclude on that cheerful, optimistic note: Happy New year, everyone. (May that turn out to be an understatement, too…)

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