The Nationalist fear factory
At the same instance that Simon Busuttil announced he will be contesting the next election, he also gave us a minor insight into his mindset. He solemnly declared that his aim is to prevent Labour from taking office. The reason given? According to him, only the Nationalist Party can adequately administer these islands. However, he did not stop there. He went on, adding he was not excluding the possibility that, if Labour receives the democratic mandate to govern, Malta would find itself in a position where it will be constrained to ask the EU for help in a form of a bailout.
This sort of declaration is of particular interest for mainly two reasons, albeit differing in both substance and form. The first one was perfectly captured by financial analyst Alfred Mifsud and thus I am taking the liberty of freely reproducing his words.
Indeed, any suggestion by anyone in high places that there is any possibility of the country being forced to seek bailout rescue is not something that should be said lightly. It could make investors pause and consumers turn cautious. It could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing small problems to turn serious and complicated.
The second reason relates to the fact that this declaration fits perfectly into the now well-established strategy of using fear as an electoral weapon.
Fear campaigns are not restricted to our shores. A famous television campaign in the US during the mid 1960s used to show a little girl standing in a meadow picking the petals of a daisy while counting each petal slowly. At a certain point, a voice is heard counting down a missile launch. When the countdown reaches zero, a flash and then mushroom cloud appears on the screen. As the firestorm rages, a voice-over from then President Johnson states, “These are the stakes!
To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” Such campaigns are part of a mythic war where the opponent is demonised and where the ‘other’ is stereotyped as incapable and almost devoid of any talent.
Not for the first time in its history, the PN is again trying to create a narrative in which Labour is being pictured as high risk. The PN strategists are forcefully pushing forward the image of Labour as an organisation whose purpose of existence is to cause pain to people. It is as if half of Malta is made up of persons who are benevolent in nature while the other half is evil.
This strategy of creating a fear factor in the electorate is more evident in Gozo. Presumably, basing on the notion that Gozitans are rather more conservative than their Maltese counterparts, the PN is playing the card of better the devil you know.
In the last few months, a selected but considerable number of people have been spreading false rumours aiming to put fear into voters’ mind. Such rumours include the one which claims if Labour is elected it would no longer continue subsidising the Gozo Channel fare for the elderly.
Another rumour is that Labour will reduce the subsidies given to Gozitans attending the university in Malta. Rumours are suggesting that fewer health-related services will be offered in Gozo if Labour is trusted with office and that Gozitans will be obliged to travel to Malta for specific medical treatment.
While all these rumours go around one cannot but note the irony of all this. At times it borders on the comical given that the PN has in the last five years undermined the very fabric of Gozitans’ society.
Nowadays, employment opportunities in Gozo are few and far between. Youths and young persons are simply leaving the island and they no longer see their future in Gozo. It is difficult to remember a time in which employment opportunities have been more limited than they are now.
Difficulties are not limited to employment opportunities. Health services in Gozo are a big worry to a lot of persons.
The general hospital in Gozo is in a really sorry state. The service offered at the general hospital is by far inferior to that offered in Malta and yet this Administration, instead of focusing its energy on improving things, is indulging itself in creating a strong fear of tomorrow.
The use of fear to continue clinging to power is an old and powerful tool.
The lure of holding power tends to absorb people and when few tools are left at one’s disposal to continue holding on to power, some resort to fabrication, to creating non-stories out of trivial issues, and to perpetuate a fear of real change.
Anton Refalo is the Labour spokesman on sustainable development for Gozo.