Caught between the personal and political
In less than a month, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi twice lost his parliamentary majority but he has vowed to continue marching on.
The Administration will continue in office as long as the government enjoyed Parliament’s trust, he told journalists yesterday when visiting the offices of a software firm.
It was almost like the business-as-usual attitude Dr Gonzi adopted after winning a confidence vote earlier this month, days after Parliament voted to remove former Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici from office.
But the brave face Dr Gonzi put up yesterday, as he was shadowed by the winner of the Nationalist Party’s Prime Minister For a Day competition, betrayed the problems facing his Administration.
A few weeks ago, it was PN backbencher Franco Debono who voted with the opposition to oust Dr Mifsud Bonnici. The MP later voted with the government in a vote of confidence that prompted Dr Gonzi to declare that the chapter of political turmoil was closed.
But on Monday, a new chapter opened after backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando voted with the opposition on a motion calling for Malta’s EU envoy Richard Cachia Caruana to resign. Jesmond Mugliett, another backbencher, abstained.
The events have left people wondering why MPs on the government side keep voting against their own party.
PN backbencher Charlo Bonnici believes the majority of MPs who ousted Mr Cachia Caruana did not vote on the basis of the opposition’s motion but on “partisan or personal issues”.
“As a member of the Foreign and European Affairs Committee I was present in all the meetings held over the past two weeks and could say that the alleged treason or bypassing of parliamentary procedures by Mr Cachia Caruana never occurred,” a dejected Mr Bonnici said.
He was left questioning what was gained by “the portrayal of revenge as some kind of virtue”.
Without suggesting what course of action the government should adopt from now on, Mr Bonnici insisted it should “definitely not be business as usual”.
In similar tone, former Prime Minister and President Emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami said that what happened in Parliament was “most unfair” on Mr Cachia Caruana.
“He has served his country well to the best of his ability and what happened was absolutely unacceptable,” Dr Fenech Adami said of his former personal assistant and long-time adviser.
Former PN president Frank Portelli drew a distinction between the Cachia Caruana motion – intended to censure a civil servant – and the Mifsud Bonnici motion that spoke of ministerial responsibility.
“It seemed to me as I listened to Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando on the radio that he has a big personal issue with journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and, for some reason, Jeffrey was redirecting his feelings to Richard Cachia Caruana,” Dr Portelli said.
If it was not a personal issue, like Dr Pullicino Orlando said, it must be a political problem, Dr Portelli added.
“It must be a case of political assassination.”
The Mifsud Bonnici motion was a different kettle of fish, he said, adding it targeted a minister who was being held politically responsible for some serious shortcomings. “The minister had to resign but the government survived a vote of confidence the next day. Parliament decided against the minister but supported the government to remain in office. This is survival but all within the bounds of parliamentary democracy.”
The Prime Minister’s problems are compounded by the fact that his party is trailing in the polls. An election called now would not bode well for the PN, according to Dr Portelli.
A summer of discontent beckoned unless the government grabbed the bull by the horns and resolved the issues “hurting ordinary people”, he added.
But according to Labour candidate and former pro-divorce movement chairman Deborah Schembri the situation is untenable and only an election will give the country stability.
If the Prime Minister prolonged an election to gain more votes, she said, it was a wrong strategy because the PN was “losing votes by the second”.
She believes the government’s internal problems stemmed from Dr Gonzi’s leadership style, refuting the argument that personal issues motivated various Nationalist MPs to part ways with their parliamentary group.
“Was the divorce campaign motivated by personal issues or was it because many people felt it was time to have divorce? Were the problems flagged in the Home Affairs Ministry personal issues?”
The Prime Minister failed to unite people in his party and was instead creating factions, she said, adding the Prime Minister disappointed her and many other people who believed in him.
“I once believed in him and so did people like Jeffrey (Pullicino Orlando), Jesmond (Mugliett) and Franco (Debono) who are now very critical. But Dr Gonzi is oblivious to the problems that are obvious to everyone else.”