Facing the inevitable

History has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna.
Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna.

As football fervour reaches a fever pitch with tonight's Euro 2012 final, one cannot help but compare the parliamentary theatrics of Dom Mintoff during the 1998 World Cup with the recent behaviour of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Franco Debono in parliament.

All three felt they were acting out of principle and vowed that there was nothing personal in the decision they took. The truth, as we all know, is somewhat different. All three were motivated by a sense of having been ignored and marginalised... and in some cases, even targeted or used.

Their behaviour though, not surprisingly, brings to the fore the real story of politics behind closed doors. Certainly, the latest episode against Richard Cachia Caruana - though surely catalysed by a sense of vendetta - has definitely underlined the overbearing influence of Cachia Caruana.

Is the credibility of our political class plummeting further?

The unpredictability of how backbenchers will vote in parliament has created an air of uncertainty that is having an effect on economic activity with dire consequences on our economy.

It does however also bring into question the leadership capabilities of the Prime Minister and whether the Nationalist Party is seriously fragmenting irreversibly.

While the European agenda is dominated by discussions to find solutions to the euro crisis, our parliamentary agenda is dominated by attempts to avoid voting on bills and by long debates on the political credibility of individual politics. We have also been forced to debate issues which are not of immediate importance.

The administration of justice, and Malta's involvement in Partnership for Peace are certainly important, and bear discussion. But they pale into insignificance when compared to the meltdown of the eurozone.

It goes to show that our government is unfocused, and that it is failing to see the bigger picture.

The bickering within the Nationalist Party is having serious effects on the stability of government, calling into question the very unity of the party. The calls for resignations from the party executive and accusations of collusion with the opposition are evidence of a party lacking central cohesion.

There are clearly, as Simon Busuttil pointed out, two lines of thought and action within the party, which risk colliding with one another. The Nationalist Party was never homogenous and all currents of the party previously managed to gel as a result of the skills of then party leader Eddie Fenech Adami and his immediate entourage - which was, ironically enough, led by Richard Cachia Caruana.

But as politics really becomes more and more issue-oriented, the rifts and cracks within the party are likely to become more visible, with dire consequences on its electoral hopes of being re-elected. The developments are rapidly sending shockwaves down our political system, with party leaders no longer being able to take their majority for granted, leaving a sense of uncertainty in the country.

The very value of loyalty is being called into question. Tradition has it that political parties could rely and take for granted the loyal commitment of their members in parliament. A way should have been sought whereby backbenchers felt more involved, while respecting the prime minister's prerogative to choose not only his ministers but also the composition and size of his Cabinet.

Events are developing at a fast pace which are visibly weakening the prime minister. How can a backbencher vote out a minister and a permanent representative of the country with just a tame reactionary condemnation from the party executive? It shows just what a prisoner Lawrence Gonzi has become due to the behaviour of his backbenchers.

Beppe Fenech Adami was perfectly comprehensible when stating that he would not approve the recandidature of a backbencher who voted out a minister but it is totally incorrect in not insisting that the backbenchers be heard before being condemned.

The prime minister should have been equally forceful. Just stating that consequences follow such disloyal behaviour is not sufficient.

Condemnation by the executive should have led to an election being called. In the absence of such action, uncertainty will carry on increasing. The summer parliamentary recess - whenever it is declared - will not stop the haemorrhaging, as the backbenchers are most likely to carry on with their public statements of disagreement.

Dissent in political parties is not unheard of in European parliamentary democracies. But when dissent does take place, the leader of a party either resigns or else cleans up his stable by calling an election. More so if it happens more than once. Gonzi has obstinately chosen to ignore the writing on the wall.

Those backbenchers who disagree with their party could decide to either hang on to their seat or in the event of total breakdown with their party, to resign.

The way forward for anyone in a political party who disagrees fundamentally with decisions being taken is to either fight internally to convince and persuade others, or else to give up and leave.  

The backbenchers may be right on many issues - including the need for further reforms which the country needs - and indeed, there is evidence that many of their ideas, like party financing and cohabitation, are finally being put on the agenda. This shows that their protests have not completely fallen on deaf ears but their methods are often questioned.

As things stand today, it is clear that the current parliamentary situation can only deteriorate, and the logical conclusion is for a general election to be held at once. The prime minister has an obligation towards the country and his party's future.

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Luke Camilleri
They laughed and jibed when Mintoff went to China way back in the 70's and America and the rest of the worled followed.... even the P.N. !