Easier to throw eggs than to run a country

Makes you wonder what these people really want, at the end of the day. So far, the only consistent demand they have made is the immediate resignation of Joseph Muscat: which, in itself, doesn’t translate into any of the political reforms we all know this country needs

A lot has been written about parallels between the present political situation and the 1980s. But while it certainly does feels like we’re back in those turbulent, uncompromising times… the picture on the ground suggests something slightly different. 

Whatever it may feel like in the comfort of one’s own private social media bubble, we now have two independent surveys indicating that there has been no real substantive change at electoral level.  

In spite of everything that has happened in the past two weeks, the gap between government and opposition still hovers at around 15.5%: broadly comparable to the situation over the past seven years. 

From this perspective, any comparison with the 1980s goes out of the window. Back then, the Opposition’s resounding battle-cry was built around the word ‘Bidla’ – change – and a clear majority rallied behind it: paving the way to the seminal 1987 election victory for the PN. 

Today, the key word remains ‘change’ – and not just a change of prime minister, but also a reform of the entire system to create a fairer and cleaner way of doing politics, etc.  

But there is evidence that the majority is just not buying it this time round. 

Impressive though the protest turn-outs may have become, the movement itself remains limited to a single special-interest minority lobby-group. They might be loud, and their strategies may have briefly captured the public imagination; but statistically, we are still very far away from a groundswell grassroots movement that can actually bring about the changes it so passionately advocates. 

It therefore feels more like we’re back to immediately before the 2017 election. Then as now, we had an Opposition movement (albeit still largely limited to the Nationalist Party) hitching its wagon exclusively to a single issue – Egrant, at the time – and propelled by a misplaced sense of optimism: fuelled in turn by the sheer enthusiasm of large and boisterous anti-government protests.  

With hindsight of the 2017 election result (and even without it) we can safely conclude that a significant chunk of the electorate was simply out of touch with the mood among a much larger segment of the population. The result was an ‘unexpected’ electoral defeat (by the PN, at least); resulting in the entire party tail-spinning into the irresolvable crisis it still finds itself in today. 

This, in fact, constitutes about the only real difference between today and three years ago. For until 2017, the Parliamentary Opposition was still exclusively composed of one party: a situation that would alter radically with PD’s election of two seats in that election. 

Repubblika and Occupy Justice didn’t exist yet; and in any case they had yet to assume the anti-PN stand that would come with Adrian Delia’s ascendancy to the party leadership. This in turn means that the only change since 2017 has been further fragmentation of the forces opposing the Labour government. 

There are admittedly seismic movements currently taking place within the Labour Party, too. Joseph Muscat’s ‘movement of progressives and moderates’ now lies in tatters on the ground; and the emergence of Robert Abela as a leadership contender (and now possibly also Ian Borg) suggests that PL may yet face the same sort of internecine conflict that has meanwhile torn the PN apart. 

But these are purely conjectural considerations, at this stage. Regardless who wins the leadership election, polls still suggest that the Maltese electorate will continue to trust Labour over its fragmented Opposition for the foreseeable future. And I think it’s high time we started coming to grips with why. 

Part of the reason is already glaringly visible to all who care to look: since 2017, Adrian Delia has consistently failed to make inroads among the disaffected thousands (mostly composed of former Nationalist voters) who now boo him just as emphatically as they do Joseph Muscat himself.  

To be fair, it is not entirely a situation of his own making. Delia cannot be blamed for the fact that an entire demographic bracket of the PN’s support base simply never accepted him as party leader. 

But he has not exactly helped his own cause, either. His decision to launch a fund-raising marathon, in conjunction with last Sunday’s protest, is typical of the sort of misguided leadership he has consistently displayed since winning that election two years ago. 

And again, this reminds me of the PN’s false sense of security before the 2017 election. Like Busuttil before him, Delia is simply out of touch with the mood and aspirations of the broader population… and the longer it takes him to see it, the harder it will be for the PN to regain its lost ground when the inevitable eventually happens. 

This, however, does not take into account that the PN is no longer the only Opposition force in the country. It is now part of a broader Opposition movement which also includes various (and diverse) civil society groupings: not to mention other political parties such as AD and PD. 

So we have to turn our attention towards the hub of the current ‘civil society protest movement’ that is behind all the street-level activism we have seen in recent weeks. For these are the people who loudly demand a cleaner political system… yet do not seem inclined to vote for any existing political party that can deliver it. 

And fair enough; that might be simply because there isn’t any political party that can realistically win an election against Labour… even now, even with all the turmoil Labour is currently going through.  

But then again: they don’t seem to have any visible intention of forming a political party of their own, either.  

Makes you wonder what these people really want, at the end of the day. So far, the only consistent demand they have made is the immediate resignation of Joseph Muscat: which, in itself, doesn’t translate into any of the political reforms we all know this country needs.  

Meanwhile, they’re unhappy with Adrian Delia… but have not lifted a finger to challenge him for the PN leadership. Even more bizarrely, they seem to expect both Muscat and Delia to simply cave into their demands of ‘Barra, Barra!’ without even putting up a fight…  like no politician has ever done, anywhere, in the entire history of world politics. 

Even then, however, we are none the wiser as to what would happen if the protesters get both their wishes granted. Assuming Muscat and Delia do both leave, sooner or later… what then? What rises to fill the leadership void… and what guarantee do we have that the new broom (if any) will indeed sweep cleaner than the old? 

These are questions the organisers of all these protests will sooner or later have to face. Probably much sooner than later: for whoever wins the Labour leadership election will be as familiar with the polls (and their implications) as I am.  

With a 15.5% advantage, the temptation to call an early election will be massive: for not only would victory be virtually guaranteed; but the new government would also be blessed by a renewed mandate… cutting it free of the shackles of all the promises made by Joseph Muscat in 2017 (not to mention of Muscat himself). 

And yet, the disparate branches of today’s Opposition movement are anything but ready to face a new election. It is not just the PN that has failed to capitalise on the anger and disillusionment fuelling the current waves of protests; the organisers themselves have so far failed to build anything tangible on the foundations of the movement they themselves started. 

To make matters worse, they seem to be replicating the same mistakes Simon Busuttil made before 2017: when the PN came to be associated with a destructive, divisive approach to politics… hellbent only on dismantling the present system, while offering nothing new to replace it with. 

And that, ultimately, explains why the electoral situation has remained unchanged in spite of everything. Small wonder the electorate will continue to choose a political party that (whatever its other flaws) can at least offer national stability… over a shapeless, formless cacophony of anger that can only ever project the opposite; and that, in any case, doesn’t have any national policies of its own to speak of. 

Yet there is still hope that something more constructive might arise out of the mess the Opposition is in today; something that can offer a true alternative to the existing government… by telling us, among other things, what they plan to do about immigration, education, healthcare, pensions, taxation… you know, all the other issues that Opposition movements are meant to discuss from time to time.   

But everything depends on whether these people ever realise that… well, that Father Christmas doesn’t really exist, at the end of the day. Nobody else is ever going to step forward and magically provide all this ‘good governance’ they keep demanding; so if they really want a new way of doing politics, they’re just going to have to roll up their sleeves, and build a credible political platform themselves.  

And as you can well imagine: it’s a lot harder than just pelting a minister’s car with a few rotten eggs….  

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