Dangerous brand of politics
Today, I travel to Luxembourg to attend what is now a customary meeting that takes place between a select number of MEPs and ministers from my political family, the EPP, in preparation for the meeting of the Council of Ministers on Justice and Home Affairs that takes place this week.
A conspicuous absence at this evening’s meeting will be Carm Mifsud Bonnici whom I have personally seen in action during these pre-Council meetings over the past years. It is a pity that his chair would remain empty at a time when the issue of immigration is back on the agenda.
Which leads me to reflect on the bizarre situation that emerged from last week’s vote in Parliament that cost Carm his ministerial job.
Let me be clear from the start. There is nothing wrong with a minister being held to account in Parliament or even made to resign. Quite the contrary. This is normal practice in a democracy. But, as I see it, what happened last week raised more concerns about the opposition than it did about Carm.
As The Sunday Times leader aptly put it last weekend, “nobody with a shred of intelligence believes for one minute that he (Carm) was voted out of office because of his performance as minister. This was a first class case of political opportunism”.
So here we had the opposition pushing a vote of no confidence in a minister for no apparent reason except that it could muster a majority to do it.
The opposition exploited the weakness in our political system – the tenuous one-seat-majority, which is pretty much the norm in Malta – and forced out a minister simply because it had the numbers.
Last week, it was Carm. But it could easily have been someone else. It is akin to a witch-hunt.
If the opposition can get the numbers to wield its power against you, it will do it. It does not matter if you deserve it or not. That is irrelevant. You will be out simply because the opposition can do it. It is scary and it fails the test of reason.
It reminds me of McCarthyism in the United States, in the early 1950s, when a witch-hunt against communists turned ugly with thousands of people being accused for no apparent reason of being communists. If we don’t like you, you’re a communist and you’re doomed. Your career is over.
Inspired by the unfairness of it all, Arthur Miller wrote the celebrated play, The Crucible, a story set in 17th century America where a witch-hunt was unleashed on the settlers of Salem. Religious extremism mixed fatally with opportunism and quickly sparked a witch-hunt against anyone who could be accused of witchcraft. As a result, innocent people ended up being sent to the gallows without as much as a shred of evidence. And faced with accusations, suspects were given the illogical choice between admitting guilt to be set free or be hanged if they proclaimed their innocence.
That’s right. You are set free if you admit guilt and you are hanged if you are innocent. There is no logic in it.
Of course, John Proctor, the hero of the play, ended up defending his innocence. And he was hanged for it.
In 21st century Malta, thanks to the Labour Party, we are facing a new witch-hunt. If the opposition can muster a majority against you, you are doomed. Whether you are guilty or not is irrelevant.
And I repeat. It is true that the opposition acted freely and relied on a vote from the government benches. It is true that its freedom must be respected – as it was – because these are the rules of parliamentary democracy. And it is also true, as Ugo Mifsud Bonnici so disarmingly put it, that this is the price of freedom.
But it is populist and demagogic. And, most importantly, it is just not right.
This is not the way to do politics. This is a dangerous new brand of politics.
And if the Labour Party (that calls itself moderate) can use its power so ruthlessly when still in opposition, how on earth will it wield power if it is elected to office and command unfettered authority?
I leave that question to you.
But there is one silver lining. The Labour Party has now confirmed beyond any doubt that behind its youthful leader and his blue ties and behind its new logo and new slogans on moderation, there is little that is moderate about it. And its skeletons from old are out of the cupboard.
If I can see this, so can floating voters and conscientious Labour voters. And so can disgruntled Nationalists.
Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.