MaltaToday editorial: A matter of health
EDITORIAL | Sunday, 30 December 2007

A matter of health

The state of health of the leader of the Opposition, currently convalescing after an operation last Thursday, now dominates the national agenda. Although matters of health are usually considered private affairs, in this case the issue is unfortunately loaded with political consequences. While wishing Dr Alfred Sant the speediest of recoveries, it is certainly in the public domain that the health of the alternative Prime Minister be discussed in the media, just as it is natural that the matter would be the foremost topic of conversation in the country.
First, the medical bulletin released last Thursday announced that Dr Sant needs a 10-day period of convalescence. This immediately raises the question as to who will be carrying the can for the Labour Party in his absence, with the party statute naming Charles Mangion as Deputy Leader for parliamentary affairs. Such temporary responsibility at such a sensitive time places a heavy burden on Dr Mangion’s shoulders. It also raises the question of whether, even if fully recovered, Alfred Sant would be in a fit state to run a campaign for an election which must be held by mid-August at the latest.
Depending on Dr Sant’s decision, a number of scenarios present themselves. Sant can decide to soldier on despite medical advice that a gruelling election campaign will invariably take its toll on his health. This is certainly his own prerogative. In such a scenario, it is most unlikely that any party official will openly challenge him by asking him to resign, lest they appear ruthlessly ambitious to replace a person while in ill-health. In a change of leader scenario, the chosen party leader could well find himself or herself running an election campaign to become Prime Minister within the shortest of time-frames. The question  then arises whether the elected person would be up to the job.  
Equally shattering are the implications of this latest development for the Nationalist camp. In many respects it is a hammer blow to the party in government. For one thing, it immediately dismisses any talk of an election in the first two months of the year, as no Prime Minister would want to be seen to be taking advantage of the temporary poor health of an adversary, no matter how bitter the relationship between them. It also buries any plans to conduct a negative campaign to demonise the Opposition leader… although at the same time, it might also spur the PN to run a positive campaign, highlighting instead the party’s own successes over the past 18 years. This might not be such a bad thing, either for the PN or for the state of the country.
Another problem is that apart from limiting further still the Prime Minister’s options for Election Day, the issue also eliminates altogether any element of surprise, which is traditionally a Constitutional trump card. The situation recalls Harold Macmillan’s dictum that events are the most unpredictable thing in politics. In time, Lawrence Gonzi may regret not having taken the initiative to call the election in late 2007.
Either way, this issue has created a window of opportunity for the Labour Party and a no- win situation for the Nationalist. If Sant soldiers on, his party will probably benefit from a sympathy vote. On the other hand if he steps down, he will in one stroke have demolished the electoral platform of the party in government, which openly affirms that Alfred Sant is its biggest electoral asset.
Whatever the outcome of Dr Sant’s current medical condition the political landscape will certainly change as a result. The electoral strategies of both political parties will have to be redrawn from scratch.
One sincerely hopes that as a result, the political climate will take on a more tolerant tone, as in fact it has already been ignited with the correct and immediate words of support by the Nationalist Party following the announcement by the Labour Party of the medical condition of its leader.
We take this opportunity to wish Dr Sant all the best for a quick and full recovery.

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