No longer a party affair
When the infighting gripped the government barely days after the Nationalist Party swept through a razor-thin electoral victory in 2008, fingers were pointed in every direction.
The government blamed the media for spelling out obvious shortcomings, including the need to keep certain rebels on the government benches under close watch.
The Labour Party was blamed for putting spokes in the government’s wheels when the unrest was being triggered from within.
This administration will remain known for the way Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi handled the economy as the world’s financial bubble burst. But it will also go down in the history annals for the way it spectacularly failed to handle its own infighting.
Vociferous backbenchers were given posts as parliamentary assistants or jetted off overseas just to stroke their ego and buy their silence. Cue – they came back and demanded more. Others backstabbed their colleagues in private. The party administration humiliated itself to the extent of issuing a statement to say it had directed Hermann Schiavone not to present himself as a candidate, clearly to avoid confrontation with his district rival Franco Debono.
What happened at the PN headquarters last Thursday when three MPs were told they could not contest with the party at the next election was an overdue decision, but in reality it was one of the saddest chapters of a party which has for many years been on the right side of history.
By telling Jesmond Mugliett, Dr Debono and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando that they will be barred from contesting under the PN ticket in the next election (when two of them had already decided they wouldn’t anyway), the PN merely bought time. It merely patched up its puncture with putty. Again.
The Prime Minister should have put his foot down months ago when there were clear rumblings on his bench. MPs who disregarded the party whip should have been instructed to come in line or face the music.
So what happens next? Is Dr Gonzi guaranteed his government can run the full five-year term? Certainly not.
Our lead story today confirms the three MPs will not take Thursday’s decision lightly. Dr Debono said it would be difficult for him to support the government. Whereas before he might have weighed his actions not to dent his electoral chances he now has nothing to lose. Dr Pullicino Orlando said he wants the “clique” removed. Mr Mugliett has harped on about the government’s instability.
The country needs to know at once how the three intend to behave on the national stage. This is no longer a party affair.
Will the three MPs hit back at their own party by putting the entire country’s crucial Budget into jeopardy? Will they back the government on important votes like IVF legislation? Parliament might be in recess until October 1 but the political crisis will remain on the agenda. An early election and the usual protracted campaign would not do the delicate economy any good, especially during the summer months. The Prime Minister has to bite the bullet and eliminate the uncertainty sooner rather than later.
What is certain is that the political uncertainty brought about by the PN’s internal haemorrhage – and the dearth of a convincing Labour opposition seemingly more interested in piggybacking on the government’s internal dissent than proving it has sound economic policies – is doing little to inspire confidence.