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Man does not live on bread alone

In their ‘mission report’ after spending two days in Malta late last year, MEPs, members of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, referred to influence in elections.

They recommended that an investigation should be held into “the alleged influence of elections through increased hiring in the public sector, the issuance of construction permits and regularisation of irregular constructions, as well as pay increases and promotions in the military”.

There are more items that can be added to the list of ‘promises’ that would influence the outcome of an election. In legal parlance, these would be described as ‘corrupt practices’ and are listed in part five of the General Elections Act - perhaps in other laws too and grouped in four main categories: ‘personation’, ‘treating’, ‘undue influence’ and ‘bribery’.

Apart from the more obvious serious transgressions, like using or applying for another person’s ballot paper and using or threatening to use violence to make one vote or not vote, the law also speaks of promises or endeavours to procure money or “valuable consideration” and promises or endeavours to procure any office, place or employment, gifts, loans, offers, promises, procurements or agreements.

None of the above were included in view of what evidently happened in the run-up to the 2013 election and subsequently, even if none of the powers-that-be, especially the Electoral Commission, the Attorney General and the police, seems to have noticed. These have adopted the proverbial attitude of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Much of Labour’s success can be attributed to its populist programme and the panem et circenses (bread and circuses) strategy: dish out the candy to keep everyone happy and focus on the here-and-now and instant self-gratification. In the past, Roman emperors ensured the masses had all the ‘pleasures’ they wanted: food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition theatre... It maintained the peace and kept the pressure off politicians. Sounds familiar?

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his propaganda machine continue to transmit the message that the people can only be thankful to the Labour government for the good life they are living.

“We are making possible what others believe to be impossible,” he told Labour supporters in Tarxien – even the venue is telling: a football club - last Sunday. As he usually does, Dr Muscat branded opposition – and not just by the Nationalist Party - as negativity and spoke of another Labour victory at the upcoming “10th test” (the European elections in May 2019). “The greater the trust placed in us by the electorate, the greater the responsibility we have to work for a better future for this country,” he concluded.

It depends what he means by “a better future” for Labour seems unable to comprehend that man does not live on bread alone. Otherwise, good governance, transparency and accountability would feature high on its agenda and it would ensure that all institutions do their duty without fear or favour.

But nobody should hold one’s breath that any of that will happen anytime soon. Luckily for Labour and sadly for the country, the only political party that can be considered a government in waiting still has a very long way to go before it can function as an effective Opposition.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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