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Gonzi’s best year ever

Lawrence Gonzi, lead­er of the Nationalist Party, must be heading into the Christmas festivities a satisfied man. Looking back and taking count he can conclude that things went his way where they mattered and are doing so to the end of the year.

What seemed to be his greatest bugbear, the rebellion of Franco Debono, proved two things. Firstly, that, for the sake of his party, Gonzi does not mind losing bucketfuls of dignity. He chased the man from the start, visiting him at his home when he didn’t turn up for a vote. He took him abroad with him; he made him parliamentary assistant.

Still Debono huffed and puffed and eventually brought the house down. But, secondly, see what Gonzi achieved in between and even afterwards. With wily moves and by staying put, he allowed Debono space to bawl and roar but basked safe in the knowledge that he would not (yet) vote him out of office. Gonzi was cynical, certainly, and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici was a sacrificial lamb. But the Government persevered.

At a time when the Nationalist Party was lagging far behind in the popularity polls, Gonzi was prepared to do everything to stay in office while the party machine was fine tuned to start going after the grumblers, waving the old flag of scaremongering tactics.

An unexpected blow came when his side voted out Richard Cachia Caruana. That humbled Cachia Caruana but did not change Gonzi’s strategy to cling on while the claw back continued. Rather, he put Cachia Caruana to better use.

And the weeks and months rolled by. With everybody predicting Gonzi would have to call an election before the end of 2011 and then shortly after the end of the year, here we are at yet the end of another year, with the odds narrowing – a Labour lead of 12 per cent has been cut to eight per cent, according to yesterday’s MaltaToday.

In the process, more face and dignity were lost. But Gonzi did not care. His priority was to hang on and gain time for a fighting chance to salvage the election. Some developments unexpectedly went his way. He decided to use Simon Busuttil, a young fresh face, as his personal emissary.

Out of the blue, European Commissioner John Dalli had to resign. Gonzi immediately smelled an opportunity. With further cynicism, he kicked his deputy, Tonio Borg, upstairs, opening a key slot for Busuttil.

Luck doesn’t last forever. In the end, Debono did bring the Government down. But not before Gonzi and Tonio Fenech had time to go through the motions of presenting an election Budget to Parliament. And it was now close to the end of the year, time for another wily move.

Gonzi sought agreement with Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat that there would be a peace period up to January 6. Once the Three Kings had delivered their gifts, hostilities could start again.

Gonzi let slip in that would be the date when the Government resigned and became a mere caretaker. Astonishingly, Muscat swallowed that hook, line and sinker. And Gonzi gained still more time to deploy the power of incumbency to his favour.

Fortune favours the brave. The unexpected story of a top judge, who had seemed as above suspicion as Caesar’s wife, broke out, as did an unconnected story regarding another judge. Gonzi expressed shock but did fast calculations how to gain further political advantage for his party. Having been permitted to hang on till January 6 he had clever permutations to work out to try to paint the Opposition uglier still.

And so time passes on. A whole year and a half where Gonzi played cunning leader of the PN and hang his role of Prime Minister and the so-called national interest, other than for a few opportunities in the media limelight abroad.

There is more to the man than had ever fully met the eye. And there is more to come. Even if you are fooled by the silent Yuletide period, the coming election will be one of the dirtiest we have ever witnessed, with the outcome open to the last dirty trick right to the end. Confident Labour has a minefield to cross.

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