Before the fiddlers have fled
I have been saying so since I started writing this column in January 2009. What has been happening to Lawrence Gonzi’s group in Parliament is not the cause of this embattled Prime Minister’s troubles but an effect of what is happening outside Parliament in Maltese society as a whole. What happens in Parliament is a reflection, the tip of the iceberg, of what goes on out here.
Thirty months ago I wrote: “Governments are made possible by alliances: social and political alliances, by alliances of convenience and, sometimes, of conviction, by strategic and tactical alliances, by long-term and short-term alliances. Many of the alliances that this government is built on are beginning to come apart. This is sending tremors throughout the whole edifice of Lawrence Gonzi’s government” (www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090119/opinion/no-quantum-of-solace.241342).
Not so, replied the usual online vigilantes. One replied that “what we are experiencing are tiny, insignificant tremors”. Another one that I was “clutching at straws”. Yet another that I was “not even clutching at straws for there are no straws to clutch, only wishful thinking and dreams”. Mine was an exercise in “fiction and sophistry”. Another complimented me for my “vivid imagination”.
I wonder if, today, one had to look these valiant paladins straight in the eyes and ask them, hand on their heart, if they are still convinced that what we are experiencing are merely tiny, insignificant tremors.
Unlike them, I refuse to demonise those that disagree with me. I believe that, at the end of the day, we are all capable of admitting the truth, even if only to ourselves.
The recent announcement by Lawrence Gonzi’s PN – though some would question if the Nationalist Party is still Dr Gonzi’s party – of a provisional list of candidates for the coming elections confirms the view that there is more trouble ahead. The list suggests that whoever is at the helm in Pietà is desperately seeking to replace anyone who might rock the boat with loyalists. The tactics are clear but it is all tactics and no strategy.
Take the 10th district, namely Sliema, St Julians, Gżira and Pembroke. The PN incumbents are Robert Arrigo, Dolores Cristina, Michael Frendo (now Speaker and not on the provisional list), George Pullicino and Francis Zammit Dimech (co-opted).
Mr Arrigo was elected with the highest percentage of the total first count votes obtained in the 10th district by all PN candidates, namely 21.53. He was followed by Ms Cristina with 14.94, Mr Pullicino with 14.87, Dr Zammit Dimech with 13.24 and Dr Frendo with 11.02 per cent. The highest percentage of the district quota obtained in the first count was Mr Arrigo’s, with 81.61, with Ms Cristina in second place with 56.65 and Mr Pullicino third with 56.37 per cent.
The actual number of first count votes gives one a more concrete feel of the relative political significance of the incumbents. Mr Arrigo got the highest number with 2,965 followed by Ms Cristina with 2,058 and Mr Pullicino with 2,048.
Bear in mind that John Dalli, who also contested Sliema together with his home sixth district, obtained 1,711 first count votes here, suggesting that, in 2008, the PN felt that Mr Dalli had a significant personal weight in the 10th district. (All figures from John C. Lane’s excellent website, www.maltadata.com/results.htm).
Dr Gonzi’s PN – again assuming that this is still the case to the same extent that it was pre-2008 – has now decided to run cardiac surgeon Albert Fenech in the 10th district. He is one of two handfuls of new Nationalist candidates, among which Emanuel Delia, head of Minister Austin Gatt’s secretariat, and Claudio Grech, former CEO of SmartCity Malta (resigned in October 2009) and former chairman of Malta Information Technology Agency (resigned December 2011), a policy adviser to Dr Gatt.
It looks like Prof. Fenech, who enjoys professional prestige and has an assertive personality and – or so I understand – open minded world view, is being deployed in the critical 10th district for two reasons. One is that the PN is expecting the two ministers elected from this district to have lost a lot of their popularity with traditional PN voters and all their potential appeal for floaters and pale blues.
Mr Pullicino has served as minister for rural affairs and the environment for longer than is wise. His responsibilities include agriculture and fisheries, rural development, waste management, climate change issues, public works and cleansing and the Malta Resources Authority.
Ms Cristina is Minister of Education, Employment and the Family.
Prof. Fenech is presumably expected to save some of the many votes that the two ministers will lose.
The second reason is Mr Arrigo. There is consensus among observers that whoever is calling the shots in Pietà is expecting Prof. Fenech to neutralise Mr Arrigo, about whose dissatisfaction with the status quo there is also widespread agreement. But will Mr Arrigo take it sitting down? He got more votes than the two ministers in 2008 and he is still a force to be reckoned with. Add the votes that went to Mr Dalli in this district and you come to the conclusion that, in the words of Irving Berlin, “there may be trouble ahead”.
More of Berlin’s classic lyrics: “But while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance, let’s face the music and dance, before the fiddlers have fled, before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance, let’s face the music and dance”.
Dr Vella blogs at http://watersbroken.wordpress.com .