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Today’s candidate, tomorrow’s nightmare

One of the hallmarks of the 2008-2013 Gonzi legislature must surely have been the persistent backbench unrest that has threatened to derail the Government on a number of occasions.

It is not the first time this has happened and, given certain circumstances, it is likely to happen again in future legislatures. A parliamentary group is made up of different characters, different skills and, especially in modern times, different egos.

Recent political history has clearly shown more parliamentarians are reluctant to bow their heads to their party leaders, let alone their Whips.

Of course, internal disagreement on certain policies is common, sometimes even healthy – provided the cause is justified and not fuelled by personal vendettas and petty interests.

Malta has seen its fair share of colourful characters who forgot they were elected on the ticket of a party with a mandate and certain principles. They have forged ahead with their own personal agendas on the national stage, in the process humiliating party and leader with outlandish behaviour and statements.

As the political parties are finalising their list for the upcoming election, they could do well to probe well into the background of everybody before announcing their candidature.

Today’s hope could be tomorrow’s nightmare. Today’s general election candidate could be tomorrow’s MP, a minister, an opposition spokesman. Or a potential dissenter without valid reason.

Some names that are being pushed for a parliamentary seat have already raised eyebrows among observers who can see beyond party administrations’ desire to score immediate populist points.

The political parties should work to narrow down the list of candidates to ensure that there is a quality pool of people who fit in with their ideals and programme and also ensure that every contender on the ballot sheet is capable of making the parliamentary cut.

It is short-sighted of the two main political parties to field a rainbow of palatable faces and then push their favourites among the electorate.

Most of the aspirants promote themselves as the next big thing for Maltese politics and the common voter is often not in a position to distinguish a charlatan from the real thing.

The Nationalist Party, which spent nearly five years ruing the day it sanctioned the candidature of certain individuals elected on its ticket, should have learnt its lesson. Yet, it does not seem to have done so.

Labour is in danger of going down the same road.

With today’s developments in communications and an ever-inquisitive media, parliamentarians have several potential pitfalls. MPs, prospective election candidates and party officials keep posting comments on Facebook and Twitter that are embarrassing for them, let alone the party they are meant to represent.

Parties would do well to scan the backgrounds and skills of prospective candidates. They should ask their colleagues, their families, check their past statements. But they should also question their social and political ideologies.

It is pointless trying to accept nominees simply on the strength of their name alone. They have to be able to fit in the party, not just today but for years to come through thick and thin.

One problem that remains is that there is little incentive for high-level professionals to enter the world of politics. Salaries remain low, while there is a human cost to true political commitment.

Politics is undoubtedly a difficult vocation but that does not mean that high standards should not be required of those who take part. Political parties ignore this reality at their peril.

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