We can still keep the roly-poly, right?

The Skinny • No. 63 –  Farewell, Silvio Parnis

Silvio Parnis (left) with Robert Abela
Silvio Parnis (left) with Robert Abela

What are we skinning? The exclusion of Silvio Parnis from Prime Minister Robert Abela’s most recent parliamentary reshuffle, where the former Parliamentary Secretary for the Elderly’s portfolio was elevated to a ministry, but was ultimately given to Michael Farrugia instead.

Why are we skinning it?  Mainly due to Parnis’s very telling – and, in a lot of ways, very Maltese – reaction.

Which was? After Parnis rejected Abela’s conciliatory gesture in granting him the local councils portfolio, the former said that Abela “hurt him and his family” by taking his original position away from him.

Sounds like the natural reaction of a bruised ego. Yes – Parnis even made it a point to say that him and Abela were close friends.

And what’s wrong with that? Gesturing towards a personal friendship to shore up compassion in the general public within the sphere of what should be a political debate is precisely why I described Parnis’ reaction as being very ‘Maltese’.

How do you mean? Do only Maltese people have feelings? Presumably not (I haven’t been able to check of late due to covid travel restrictions) but it’s hard to deny that the Maltese have a particular problem in separating the personal from the political at the best of times.

But wasn’t Parnis also colloquially known as the ‘Minister of the South’ for the longest time? Isn’t being ‘close to the people’ kind of his brand? If it were a curated brand, it was a genius one. Regardless, it continues to cultivate a kind of ‘closeness’ that is often less about genuine compassion and more about good ol’ clientelism. Or maybe a mix of both, given Parnis’s old-school village charm.

Surely that’s a complex grey area. Yes, dissertations HAVE been written, and will continue to be written, about how the political dynamics of Malta in particular and – I guess – Southern Europe in particular do promote a dubious proximity between certain people and politicians. But you know what isn’t a grey area?

What? The fantastically meme-friendly decision on Silvio Parnis’s part to distribute roly-polies emblazoned with ‘Kuragg’ following an outbreak of COVID-19 in elderly homes.

But at least that’s something. Distributing sweets, though?

The man can’t cure COVID on his lonesome. Of course not. But a bit of sobriety and at least the aura of responsibility would help.

That would have been the mature path to take, yes. But why project maturity when there’s crocodile tears to be shed, right?

Do say: “While Robert Abela’s decision to jettison Silvio Parnis from his original post may appear ‘heartless’ to those who were partial to Parnis’ ‘authentic’ image, the fact that decisive action was taken after what was, by all accounts, a disastrous covid calamity in our old people’s homes does our prime minister credit. At its best, politics should be about effective and responsible actions, not emotional overtures to friendship and mock solidarity.”

Don’t say: “We can still keep the roly-poly, right?”