Forward to the past

While both parties seem hell-bent on dragging us backwards towards the past, both insist that their intention is to pave the way to a better future.

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

As the campaign ahead of the next election starts to intensify, certain intrinsic differences in approach between the two parties are beginning to show.

A typical example occurred only yesterday, in the form of an exchange between Labour leader Joseph Muscat and Finance Minister Tonio Fenech regarding the precise extent and nature of the debt incurred by Malta's only energy provider, Enemalta.

It started when Muscat - reacting to news that Malta is officially out of recession - accused government of 'hiding' Malta's real national debt figures behind a loan incurred by the beleaguered State-owned utility company.

As opposition leader, Joseph Muscat is well within his rights to question Fenech's handling of this particular aspect of his portfolio. Yet the attitude of both protagonists in this exchange also speaks volumes about what is wrong with their own respective parties' campaigns.

For as opposition leader, Joseph Muscat also has duties and responsibilities of his own. Among them, the duty to come up with alternative solutions and/or proposals to the same problems he accuses government of mishandling altogether... not just with regard to Enemalta, but also in the form of clear and unambiguous political manifesto of his own (without which no future Opposition would be able to hold his own government to its commitments, as Muscat now does with the Gonzi administration)

For much the same reason, Tonio Fenech is likewise justified in turning the tables onto the opposition the way he did yesterday. He is perfectly right to insist that Muscat inform the electorate exactly how a future Labour government will handle such issues as the price of energy, etc.

And yet, by drawing so much attention to Muscat's apparent failure to come up with any clear electoral vision of his own, Fenech - along with other government officials, including the Prime Minister- also betrays the fact that the Nationalist Party has for several years now been struggling to find a basis on which to beat the Opposition at its own game. Viewed from a certain angle, the two parties seem to be caught up in an impossible stalemate. Government appears incapable of even defending its own record over a quarter of a century without resorting to simply attacking the Opposition over its lack of substance and vision. And yet, since when has 'pointing out the flaws in a rival party' been any substitute for convincing people that your own party is in fact a better option?

And herein lies the rub: it is as though the Nationalist Party has lost faith in its own ability to govern, and can now only contest an election by insisting that Labour will be worse... without taking the trouble to explain exactly why.

Labour, on its part, appears to  be making the dangerous mistake of resting on its laurels: snug in the knowledge that the PN has alienated so many of its own supporters, that its chances of holding onto power regardless are all but negligible.

The upshot is that the Opposition party seems to have grown lazy. And just like the PN (albeit for different reasons) it no longer even feels the need to explain way, in its own view, the PL would make a better party in government.

The resulting paradox is as frustrating as it is symmetrical. The two parties seem to be echoing each other's mediocrity. None of this is in any way conducive to a healthier political future. On the contrary, this sort of endless political one-upmanship can only point in one direction: a slow but steady descent into traumatic mud-slinging of the kind we had all grown so used to in the past.

The irony, of course, is that while both parties seem hell-bent on dragging us backwards towards the past, both insist that their intention is to pave the way to a better future.

But of course one cannot move both forwards and backwards at the same time.

Recent events have shown that the two parties are unwilling and possibly unable to shake off the hangover of the Mintoffian era. Nationalist propaganda today seems designed specifically to linking Muscat to events that took place when he himself was still a child... and while one can appreciate the political reasons for this, one must also seriously question the hypocrisy with which the PN accuses Labour of raking up the past... (not without reason, to be fair - under Muscat, the PL has in fact marked a conscious return to Mintoffianism)... when it is actually the PN, and not Labour at all, that seems incapable of letting bygones be bygones.

Sadly, one must conclude that our nation's  current phase of political ill-health is attributable directly to an inherent failure in the two-party system.

It is a system that encourages internecine squabbling with no solutions in sight. It is also a system that forces both sides into an ultimately self-defeating vicious circle, from which it is difficult to emerge for the simple reason that it ultimately pays both sides to keep the country from actually progressing.

One can only wonder how long this increasingly bleak scenario can realistically be expected to last.

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GonziPN Has no alternative to travelling to the past in order to instil FEAR, you have to be desperate to use this tool; just as Labour was in the 80`s. History repeating itself. While PL offers hope and this will defeat fear, although it is a jump in the dark and insecurity is highly undesirable. Maybe its better the devil you know, and stagnation and corruption.
Till someone grows enough guts to assemble a third viable party, of which AD and other vocal politicians, would be called to form part. Malta, within the ambit of a modern world seems to be growing an undercurrent of dissent and just plain annoyance at the present scenario, well described by you, that makes the time ripe for a middle-of-the-road, incorruptible party to emerge. Who will take the first step?