EDITORIAL | Sunday, 04 November 2007

A battle of ideas

The country has embarked on a Presidential-style election campaign with party leaders and their respective political programmes being grilled and scrutinised by the media. The heat is clearly on, with one side being presented as a safer pair of hands and the other side being projected as the embodiment of change.

The country has been rife with speculation on the forthcoming election date. The talk on the streets is dominated by conjecture on when the Prime Minister will take the country to the polls. People are talking of little else.

Clearly the guessing game can go on until the middle of July. Just like any other political pundit, we too can only speculate. The prerogative is clearly the Prime Minister’s. This is his Constitutional prerogative, his tactical advantage and the most solitary decision any Prime Minister has to take. Whichever date is chosen, Lawrence Gonzi would be well advised to announce it before the economy, currently buoyant, comes to a standstill with all investment decisions placed on the backburner, awaiting the people’s verdict.

Our opinion poll, as evidenced in our front-page story today, shows that the parties are running neck to neck. This could be the reason why the election decision has been delayed, since Prime Ministers tend to call elections when their opinion polls show their party to be at an advantage. The date and result are of particular importance to the present incumbent seeking his first mandate from the electorate. The present delay in announcing the date does not show an indecisive trait since, unlike Gordon Brown, at no point did Lawrence Gonzi lead people to believe that an election would be called by the end of the year.

Apart from all the speculation, the country is clearly in election mode as evidenced from the highly charged political temperature, dominated by press releases, denials, corruption accusations and dirty trick machinations. These tactics are all part of our national sport, politics.

This election has its own idiosyncrasies. The first since our accession to the European Union, where member states’ coalition governments are the order of the day. It is also the first since the European parliamentary elections, where the dominance of the two-party system was slightly dented. And the first since immigration became an issue, and last but not least, the first since the 24/7 existence of a fast-growing inquisitive media.

The dynamics have changed. The country could well be in for a surprise result.

It is also an election in which both leaders have much at stake with Lawrence Gonzi in search of his first electoral win, and Alfred Sant contesting as party leader after two successive disasters in general elections. The contest may indeed boil down to a comparison between the performance and tenure of Alfred Sant’s premiership between 1996 and 1998, with that of Lawrence Gonzi in the last three years. Which one of the two deserves the people’s trust for a second term? Labour will do its utmost to turn the election into a referendum on the 18-year Nationalist reign.

No doubt the Prime Minister will calculate the advantages of waiting for the budget decisions to trickle down into people’s pockets, more so when the budget was received so positively by the majority of people… although this satisfaction, while translating into bigger support for the ruling party, did not place it in a leading position as MaltaToday’s survey shows.

While having safely handled euro zone qualification, Lawrence Gonzi would be unwise to underrate its effects on the cost of living. This will be one of the challenges the Nationalists will be facing in the coming election.

But beyond these presentational aspects there are certain words of caution we would strongly advise. None of the four parties should promise what they cannot deliver. Promises carry dire consequences if and when they do not materialise. All proposals should be costed before inclusion in electoral programmes and the cost should be made known.

Electoral programmes should be publicised in the early days of the campaign allowing the electorate and the media to scrutinise and to discuss the proposals. We would strongly urge that the campaign does not degenerate into a Punch and Judy show but concentrates on the programmes being offered by all four political parties.

With an election now surely forecasted for 2008, now is the time to embark on a battle of ideas.


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