OPINION | Sunday, 18 November 2007

Living under a question mark

jg vassallo

Winding up the budget debate, Prime Minister Gonzi gave a clear hint that ruled out the possibility of a December election. In so doing he has burst another bubble of speculation that has been floating over the Maltese political arena.
The Constitutional life of this government runs until August of next year. But, of late, there has been much conjecture that Dr Gonzi would exercise his prerogative by calling for dissolution of Parliament to make way for a snap election.
Political pundits who favoured this move argued that, in so doing, Gonzi would take advantage of the feel-good climate that radiated from the Budget speech.
With the country in high gear and in election mode, opinions on this issue diverge. The Prime Minister takes them all in, but does not decide which way to go.
How confidently can the Government navigate, when there is no rudder?
Has Malta reached a stage where the quest for certainty blocks the search for solutions, or is this a case where treacherous doubts are jeopardising the good the Prime Minister might seek to achieve?

Conflicting assessments
The Times was recently quite convinced that the time is ripe for Dr Gonzi to seize the moment and take the tide at the flood. It argued editorially (October 31) that, “it would be brave for anyone to deny the favourable impact” of the budget on the people’s mood.
“Having wisely engineered such mood with a budget that has left Labour high and dry, will the Nationalists stay on until after the introduction of the euro, or will they go for an election in the shortest time possible?” The Times asked.
The Malta Independent on Sunday (TMIS) holds diametrically opposed views. In its editorial of 4 November, it claimed that “most likely, by delaying to hold an election before Christmas, Dr Gonzi has avoided his party being mangled at the polls, and he could have won another chance for it to fight better next year.”
TMIS was in no two minds that “the events of the past weeks must have shown him (Gonzi) that even when it pulls out all the stops, his party has become unpopular with the majority of the electorate. It is, quite simply, fatigued by the same faces, the same quirks, the same mistakes, the same accents. The public is fed up of the people around him (Gonzi).”
MaltaToday took the middle view in its 4 November editorial column. It opined that “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 the 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.”

Unstated reality
There is an unstated reality behind these contrasting observations.
1) The argument for delaying the election, pushing it back to the first half of next year, is advanced in the light of the PN’s perceived “unpopularity” and the possibility of “being mangled at the polls.”
2) An editorial opinion is the opinion of a single person, however experienced, distinguished or otherwise. But this opinion is sustained independently by the latest MaltaToday survey (held on 29-30 October)
Dr Gonzi and his coven of strategists may or may not share these views. Gonzi may have agonised long enough over the electoral state of play, when he came to wind up the budget debate. He opted to keep the electorate in suspense. The elections may yet be months away. There is no likelihood of new blood being injected into the Cabinet at this late stage. Malta will continue to live under a question mark.
Indecision is like a stepchild: if he doesn’t wash his hands, he is called dirty, if he does, he is wasting water. Indecision bears the mark of weakness. From the level of the top leadership, it tends to percolate insidiously downwards, bringing with it the threat of slow decay.
In the coming months, the electorate will be further distracted by the Queen’s visit and by another presidential visit. It will be taken by storm by politicians and their spin doctors when Malta formally joins the Euro zone. The electorate would have other things on its mind during the Christmas and New Year period.
The interests of Maltese democratic development would be much better served if the electorate were able to focus on the choices it will have to make in a tranquil and orderly environment. For that, Malta needs capable and purposeful leadership. Capable of taking the bull by the horns.

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