Framing the timeframe
The electoral campaign has so far been a period of contrasts, none more so than between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Despite the hullabaloo over the appointment of new deputy leaders the two top fellows will be the leading men of the show.
Joseph Muscat has started off with a very careful stance which goes beyond the slogan chosen by Labour for the election, Malta Tagħna Lkoll (Malta belongs to all of us). He has in fact inverted that to say I can belong to all of you.
The Labour leader’s selected approach is one of unity of purpose, leaving the difference to style with ample room for consensual politics. At times of political and economic difficulties there is much good sense in such an approach. It can only work, however, if the other side is interested in joining and committing to it.
Clearly Lawrence Gonzi is not. He has demonstrated consistently so far that his chosen line is division. In a sense he contradicts himself. One moment he accuses Muscat of panting to become Prime Minister, as if that is not the object of the contest. The next Gonzi shows he is desperate to hang on and win again.
He has been doing that for over a year, suffering all sorts of political indignities in the process at the hands of the rebellious albeit disunited faction of his parliamentary group. Now that the situation is approaching the crunch he has so far held back from revealing any new proposals. And, more distinctly, he has not in any way responded to Muscat’s appeal for less divisive politics.
On the contrary, deep division is the name of the game, as far as Gonzi goes. He has ignored Muscat’s consensual stance completely to stick to his firing power as much as possible in order to try to claw back support from those who the opinion polls suggest have deserted the now defunct GonziPN.
So far Gonzi has trotted forward his party’s favourite tactic, that of playing the blame game against Labour. They blame Labour for the past, the present and now the future.
In the process, however, they have not realised how ridiculous at least a substantial part of this strategy can be. Gonzi comes across to the people as apparently forgetting that his party has been calling the shots in office for 25 years, with some rather dire consequences. Two examples of them are the public debt, which has practically doubled to 75 per cent of GDP under Gonzi’s watch, and Enemalta, which is in a more dire financial state than Malta Drydocks had ever been before a Nationalist government finally defenestrated it by selling it down the river.
These two features – massive public (and private) debt, and Enemalta’s parlous state – bulked large in Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade Malta’s rating, with the agency specifying them explicitly along with other negative factors within the Maltese economy. Aside from the public debt having blasted into the stratosphere under Gonzi, Enemalta has run into trouble during the life of various Nationalist administrations. Its timeframe of weaknesses and woes is purely Nationalist.
There is no way that Gonzi can honestly hang it around Labour’s neck except by dishonestly framing his opponent. That has been exactly the Nationalist tactic so far, in reply to Muscat’s attempt at reaching out and his gentle unfolding of policies.
That cannot be the gist of it all. The Nationalists will continue to play and stress the blame game. But they have more than that up their sleeve, as they will begin to show closer to the election date.
• I shall be missing again next Monday. I am undergoing the second – and I hope and pray final – leg of my medical intervention.