From GonziPN… to Gonzi vs PN?

Parliament has now clearly descended into the domain of the personal, the petty and the ridiculous.

Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna.
Cartoon for MaltaToday Midweek by Mark Scicluna.

Revelations that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi now faces calls for an election even from within his own party should really come as an eye-opener to many... not least, Gonzi himself.

In other times and climes, this sort of thing would have been considered simply unthinkable. Indeed, it attests to the sheer anomaly of the current political situation, that people no longer seem even remotely surprised by news that would, in years gone by, have been dismissed as something almost straight out of science fiction.

Yet there is nothing at all implausible about the suggestion that the Nationalist Party may even stand to benefit (as an anonymous commentator put it) from a spell in Opposition. Given that the internal rifts are now too wide open to be concealed any longer, there is patently no more point in keeping up the pretence that nothing is at all rotten in the state of Denmark.

Elsewhere, the constant contradictions between 'official' party statements, and claims made by individual MPs embroiled in the controversy, can only compound the impression of a party now imploding before our very eyes.

One simple example concerns what took place at a meeting between the Prime Minister and Franco Debono last week.

Debono went on to say (on Saturday's Dissett) that Gonzi had encouraged him to continue performing house visits - a sure sign (or so the Ghaxaq MP claimed) that he would be at least considered as a PN candidate in the next election.

The PN's response - and it is significant that it would come from the party, and not the Office of the Prime Minister - was to brutally quash that naïve impression: insisting that Debono's censure by the party executive still stood, and implying that his career with the PN was already over. The gulf between those two contrasting versions is simply too immense to be the result of a genuine mistake.

Similarly unbridgeable is the divide between Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando's claims to enjoy the tacit support of 'at least 10 government MPs', and the party's decision to force all its MPs (except Pullicino Orlando and Jesmond Mugliett) to sign a declaration regarding their voting intentions.

There is a word for this sort of naked antagonism: 'WAR'. Again, this is a state of reality we normally take for granted when the hostility is directed across the parliamentary aisle; but (with few and far-between exceptions) it is all but unheard of between factions of the same party in government.

From an outsider's point of view, government now seems so utterly intent on ripping itself to ribbons that there is hardly even need for the Opposition to exist any longer. Thee three 'rebels' now perform that role: another anomaly which forces us to also question their motives.

Even if one interprets Pullicino Orlando's stand against Cachia Caruana as a necessary action to depose a political 'coup' - whereby the so-called 'oligarchy' had usurped power from elected representatives, and used it mercilessly to quash its own enemies within the PN - it is now clear that he also deceived both Richard Cachia Caruana and the rest of his party regarding his own intentions.

This is significant, as Cachia Caruana claims to have offered Pullicino Orlando a compromise that would have allowed himself an honourable way out: i.e., to resign before a vote was taken, thus sparing himself the indignity of parliamentary censure. If this is true, one can only conclude that Pullicino Orlando's false assurance that he would not back the motion was tantamount to dishonesty on an almost sadistic plane. Naturally, whether Cachia Caruana actually deserved such treatment - as payment for his similar dealings with his own adversaries (Pullicino Orlando included) over the years - is another question entirely.

What remains certain, however, is that parliament has now clearly descended into the domain of the personal, the petty and the ridiculous... and this is a far cry from the seat of serious discussion it should really have always been.

On another level, what also emerges is that the PN - at least in its present, temporary incarnation - is not just at war with itself; but it is also torn in a veritable Catch-22 situation, whereby the long-term interests of the party itself can be seen to be diametrically opposed to the short-term interests of the party leader.

Again this emerges inescapably from reports of last week's executive meeting, in which the 'benefits' of early elections were spelt out to the Prime Minister as an excuse to rid the party once and for all of its 'bad apples'.

That Gonzi refused is understandable, given that his chances of actually winning are (according to all reliable polls) rather remote. But it also speaks volumes about the undeniable fact that what is good for the PN is very clearly not good for Gonzi.

At the end of the day, this is an internal decision the party must take for itself. How much aggravation and humiliation is Lawrence Gonzi worth to the Nationalist Party? So much that it would rather spend time in Opposition, than carry on governing in such an embarrassing way?

Rarely has such a demeaning question been asked of any political party by its own members. And yet, that is the situation now facing GonziPN.

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Luke Camilleri
P.N. > gonziPN > gonziOPM / gonziPN > [email protected] : )