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Motions entangled in strings

Franco Debono’s political career will probably be over after the general election. In the unlikely event his party allows him to contest again, PN voters willsideline him.

Joseph Muscat seems entangled in Franco Debono’s strings
- Lino Spiteri

Nevertheless, while still an MP he has placed himself as a show-master pulling strings. The Prime Minister has only one old card to play. He announced he would use it immediately after his maverick MP voted with the opposition to end Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici’s current life as a minister.

Lawrence Gonzi moved another motion of confidence in the government. Debono immediately declared he would not vote against the government.

That means he will either vote for the motion or abstain, leaving the Speaker to save the administration with his casting voteyet again.

That will make a mockery of the GonziPN government. The Prime Minister, if only to preserve his dignity, should call a general election, and be done with the circus. Yet in politics dignity is not the top priority – winning is. Gonzi, though he feels for Mifsud Bonnici, will only call the general election once Austin Gatt tells himhe has a fighting chance ofwinning it.

Meanwhile the PN and the government, irregularly acting as one, will continue to bust their guts to gain lost ground. Their polls tell them they are making headway. Government sources say that the PN has October in mind. That will give him time to make further inroads into Labour’s lead.

On the face of it, it seems that Debono can pull the string on which Gonzi is hanging. In reality, he cannot anymore. Once the MP has made it clear he will not be responsible for defeating the government, the Prime Minister can effectively ignore him and go about repairing his lines.

He alone, with the advice of Austin Gatt and Richard Cachia Caruana, will decide when to throw the dice, having loaded them as much as he could.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat can reiterate that Gonzi should call a general election now. The Prime Minister will ignore him and allocate more of his time and team to massaging the electorate.

With silly gimmicks like being Prime Minister for a day, and bombarding all and sundry with unsolicited e-mails and text messages, certainly. More so with combing voters to see how he can satisfy their longings and remove their complaints.

Meanwhile, Muscat seems entangled in Debono’s strings. That perception has been fleshed out by the opposition’s motions condemning Mifsud Bonnici and Cachia Caruana, another major target of the volatile Debono’s ire. Muscat has declared he will pay no heed to those disagreed with the two motions.

That is his privilege. He is the leader of the Labour Party, not those who – like me – have consistently argued that the motions damaged Labour’s position and added power to Gonzi’s elbow.

Yet the rumble is there. On Thursday I received an e-mail from a friend who lives abroad. It is worth sharing:

“I had to write to someone who might understand my frustration. I feel really disappointed by how Parliament is descending into farce. Yesterday’s vote against the Minister of Justice felt rather surreal and I am not sure the PL is playing this well, especially in terms of how it’s giving attention and prominence to Debono. Don’t you think this will backfire and strangely the PL is playing in the hands of PN strategists?

“When I was a student in Malta in the 1980s I always felt the PN’s tactics were extremely effective and they beat Labour by being shrewd and by playing with smoke and mirrors,including alliances with aMaltese establishment which always opposed Labour politics. I don’t think one needs to be a genius to realise this is still the case and even if the PL wereto win the election, the establishment will always remain unbeaten and will ultimately neuter a Labour government.

“I do have a lot of respect for Joseph Muscat (in contrast to my deep discomfort with the party) but I happen to have a degree of scepticism over the opposition’s tactics at the moment vis-a-vis (Mifsud Bonnici) and (Cachia Caruana).

“They may have won a battle but they might still lose the proverbial war. Also I am frankly disgusted by Debono’s behaviour and how he is getting so much attention. I may be naive but I can’t understand why the opposition are playing to his maverick tune.

“Apologies for bothering you with this. I was almost going toe-mail Joseph (Muscat) with these thoughts but it would be arrogant of me to do so. I seriously worry that yet again, the Left is simply doing clumsy politics (whichis becoming rife in Europe!), even at a time when the PN appears at its weakest.”

My friend sent me anothere-mail:

“I have been following your comments though not as regularly as I would like to. I agree with your position and I have to admit thatI feel sad that Joseph (Muscat)is accepting the position that some of his colleagues feel so strongly about.

“I was going to write something but it won’t work as I am not known. I cannot understand why Joseph (Muscat) is slipping. The PN is always playing the same game and Joseph (Muscat) should have known better.

“He chose the wrong battle by going after Mifsud Bonnici. Many like him (I know him as a decent man and someone with whom one could have an intelligent conversation). I don’t really understand fully what this is all about, except that by supporting Debono the PL is becoming an embarrassment. The PL is risking being viewed as opportunistic and petty (just like Debono) and playing the same old games.

“This gathers sympathy for the government and Gonzi knows this. If I were a conspiracy theorist I’d say that Debono is being planted and that it’s all a carefully planned act!

“I think Joseph (Muscat) should dust his Gramsci books and read Gramsci’s notes on Machiavelli.”

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