MaltaToday | 9 March 2008 | I want to be elected

NEWS | Sunday, 09 March 2008

I want to be elected

The two major party leaders stand to win all or lose all in this election. Karl Schembri takes a look at what’s at stake for them, and for their parties

Either way it goes, nothing will be the same from today in our political landscape.
What’s bound to change, whatever the outcome, is not the way politics is done, as Gonzi has amply demonstrated for four years that ‘a new way of doing politics’ remains a veritable pie in the sky. And with all the old faces on the MLP camp, there is no reason to believe a Labour government would be any different in its method of delivering bar Alfred Sant’s unorthodox decision-making antics.
It is a do-or-die election for both leaders, perhaps even more so for Alfred Sant, whose place in the leadership has been hanging against all odds in a decade of electoral losses.
But even Lawrence Gonzi’s future may be in the balance if he loses this one after placing all his party’s highs and lows under the banner GonziPN in a campaign that turned out to haunt him at the eleventh hour.
It is ironic how five years ago, which seems so long ago, the cruciality of that election was hammered through incessant propaganda and a long campaign starting from before the 8 March referendum and culminating with the 12 April election that sealed Malta’s membership into the EU under Eddie Fenech Adami’s stewardship.
Back then, Malta was at a crossroads: the electorate had to choose between taking a direct flight to Athens to sign the accession treaty, or going yet again down the long and winding partnership road.
This time round, there was no one “big issue” rallying support for either party. Gone down the drain are the famous “31 institutions” fronting the Yes campaign under Fenech Adami – a formidable stage of support that secured the backing of all the institutions that mattered.
In reality, it was the traditional hegemonic bloc aligning itself with the PN in times of crisis – the same bloc harking back to the eighties, when the Nationalists under Fenech Adami were still in Opposition and when all the unions – except the GWU – traders’ associations, industrialists, employers, the students and the Church, had some grievance or other against the Labour government.
Professionals, small businessmen and the self-employed formed the core of this mass base, while white-collar unions were behind the most striking cases of industrial action during these years: teachers, doctors, bakers, bank employees and senior civil servants.
Fenech Adami managed to mobilise that base again five years ago, but this was not an option for Gonzi, whose European credentials can at best be summed up as those of an economic technocrat who reached the financial and fiscal targets set by Brussels as he grappled with all the rest of the issues facing the country.
In comparison, this election’s campaign was much briefer, and initially much blander, than that of five years ago, until the explosive bombs were released in the last week and a half.
Besides taking all the good and the bad of his administration under his name – a high-risk strategy in itself based on the man’s credibility and popularity in the face of his ministers’ track record of blunders – the outgoing prime minister has done the exact opposite of the Fenech Adami strategy.
Gonzi literally faced this election on his own. The only other face to accompany his was the unintended image of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, whose declaration that he had no knowledge of the Mistra development turned out to be a barefaced lie in the last hours, and whose strategically suicidal appearances over the last week turned the Gonzi’s campaign into an OrlandoPN.
Pullicino Orlando really drove the last nail in the coffin for Gonzi’s campaign. For while Gonzi was making ‘deals’ with the people about the new faces he would put into his new Cabinet, Pullicino Orlando provided the perfect pin for the Opposition to burst this campaign bubble.
“Will this be the new PN Cabinet?” Sant asked repeatedly with reference to the dentist’s disco venture in Mistra that shattered his environmental credentials once and for all.
If Gonzi manages to secure a victory in spite of all this, he will face his first headache to put up a Cabinet of new people whose names have not yet been tarnished with incompetence and corruption by Labour’s campaign, proven or alleged.
But a GonziPN victory would be a real triumph for the man who would have turned the tide of massive disgruntlement to his favour, unexplainably if not for Sant’s reckless policy of confrontation since his anti-EU obsession and his consistent lack of credibility.
For Sant, a Gonzi victory would mean his immediate exit from politics in a possibly catastrophic exit fanned by the angry flames of his angry grassroots. The scenario is almost unthinkable: Sant and the present leadership would end up in a veritable lynching exercise as the party would have to purge itself from all the elements that would have misled it for a whole decade.
In the case of a Labour victory, Gonzi’s presence at the helm of his party will all depend on the loss margin. Losing for an insignificant amount would still be a respectable result for the man who inherited all the problems and woes left by his predecessor. A landslide victory for Labour would however pit GonziPN in a real crisis, possibly sealing his fate as the prime minister who hasn’t won one election since his anointment, putting him at par with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici.
As to the small parties, Harry Vassallo stands most to lose unless his party fares well. He has already declared it’s four MPs or nothing for him – an impossible scenario that cannot be taken seriously, but short of a respectable vote his party would have to seriously reconsider its leadership options.
Even then, Vassallo might face the anger of his own new voters if his party gets a good share of votes that are ‘robbed’ from the PN’s, contributing further to a Labour victory. On the other hand, if Sant’s last-minute words of solidarity with Vassallo have struck a chord with Labourites to the extent that they would continue voting AD after exhausting the MLP list, this would be a real first in the traditional cross-party voting pattern that also debunks the classic PN formula of “vote for AD = vote for Labour”.
In any case, a push for change in AD leadership would happen at the worst time, given the surge of sympathy generated by his last-minute notification of imprisonment, but the Greens would have to do away with emotions and face the cruel reality out there. Despite all his personal devotion in the thankless job of politics on the fringe, Vassallo would have to inevitably step down.
As to Josie Muscat’s Azzjoni Nazzjonali, this electoral test on a national scale may make or break the fiery rightist. So far he has hardly been taken seriously. Today’s result will prove how right, or wrong, the general attitude towards this party has been throughout.

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