Crude playing about in the House
The highest institution in the land is being dragged through the mud, without too many people seeming to care. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is doing the dragging, all to suit his political end.
Very belatedly he has realised that he and his ministerial team are out of touch with the people, that they are seen in a very bad light, with all sorts of shortcomings, including arrogance, as Simon Busuttil carefully and publicly reminded him and anybody who cares to take note.
What is happening bears reiteration. Gonzi’s internal soundings told him that his party was very much behind Labour in the popularity polls. He came up with what he believes is a solution. He had his party organise a sham leadership race in which, as expected by six-month-old political babies, he came both first and last – only he contested.
He berated the government, which he leads, for being cut off from the people. He therefore selected succession-contender Busuttil to carry out a crusade to re-link the government with the people, which suddenly came to mind as an important factor in the democratic game.
Parallel with that he empowered the beleaguered Paul Borg Olivier to herd ministers and parliamentary secretaries into an activity pen from which they can massage people back into the Nationalist vote mood, no doubt by satisfying their private needs, whatever they might be.
Last Saturday week the local council elections confirmed the extent to which, at this moment in time, people are anti-Nationalist. The thousands who stayed away from the polls or did not vote, most of them Nationalists, constituted a meltdown, again in the words of Busuttil, who has become quite loquacious and descriptive.
The Prime Minister said he took the people’s message. Yet, in a mother of unholy contradiction, he insults the people through the manner he is treating the House of Representatives. Those representatives are MPs elected by the people to, well, represent them, the same people to whom Gonzi is desperately reaching out.
Simultaneously he is blocking the House where the people are represented from doing its work properly. It is meeting more irregularly than ever. It is avoiding any discussion of money bills, including the Bill which is required to put into formal effect the measures spelt out in the Budget for 2012, presented by the Finance Minister four months ago.
Motions which will require a critical vote, such as one concerning the Justice Minister, have also been put on endless hold.
The reason is simple, and partisan. Nationalist MP Franco Debono, who has declared he lost trust in the Prime Minister and much of his Cabinet, who also abstained on a confidence motion, has not been appeased.
If anything the electorate itself has given him more power to his elbow. After Saturday’s Nationalist debacle he was quick to point that the people had proven him right in his criticism of important aspects of the government’s work, or lack of it.
Debono emphasised a simple point – the Prime Minister has admitted grave shortcomings. None could be graver than disconnecting from the people and treating them with arrogance. Yet, said the waspish MP, nobody had been made to bear responsibility for that. Nobody had the decency to resign.
Very clearly, the government still cannot count on Debono’s parliamentary vote if push came to shove again. As it would do on a money Bill, which is inherently a confidence vote, or a motion concerning the Justice Ministry or minister, both under the MP’s fiercely critical review.
So, Gonzi, Prime Minister of all the people, acts in partisan mode for less than half of the voters, the Nationalist half which was in an overall minority in the 2008 election and continued to dwindle on March 10.
Result – the House of Representatives remains stymied, merely hobbling along rather than operating according to the democratic dynamics which should rule its actions.
Very evidently Gonzi is giving much more weight to his role as leader of the Nationalist Party than to that of Prime Minister of all the people. He is holding out, not calling an election, to give time to the Nationalist Party to try to win back as much of its lost support as possible.
Makes sense in purely partisan terms. But it does not say much for Gonzi’s appreciation of basic democratic principles.
Whether such opportunistic manoeuvring, an undiluted exercise of the GonziPN formula, will raise the Nationalist Party’s value in the estimation of uncommitted voters, or those who prefer to think things through rather than voting according to old preferences, can only be tested by the reality check of a general election. Meanwhile such crude shenanigans are not benefiting the country.
Just before I started drafting this column I took an overseas call from a friend who is organising an important meeting in Malta. Do you think there will be an early election, he asked me. Whether to hold the meeting or not depends on the prospective participants’ timeframe.
Only Gonzi can give my friend a proper answer, though I told him that if they met here before the autumn they should be ok. I’ll change that – the Prime Minister’s answer cannot be proper when the way he is playing about with the people’s right to committed governance is so improper.