MaltaToday | 9 March 2008 | Reflections

OPINION | Sunday, 09 March 2008



I dread elections, I dread counting halls. They remind of the long nights when I too was a candidate. I was a very reluctant candidate.
The waiting literally killed me, not because I expected miracles at the polls, but because of the tension and animosity in the Ta’Qali asbestos ridden counting hall. As the waiting prolonged, the unbearable stench of sweat and aroma of body oils and wind filled the bad air in the halls.
It continued with the indescribable banging on the Perspex by angry canvassers and the party faithful. And then there was the verbal abuse and the sniggers all around.

But democracy is also a wonderful concession that allows one to feel – for a very brief moment – the power in one’s hands. It is time you can choose between the man or woman of your choice, and some do it with gusto.
This election has been significant for the dependence on the new media – the Internet – that have accompanied the PN’s and MLP’s campaigns. And the blogs, too.
It has also seen new styles in campaigning: noticeably (or rather impossible to ignore) the quasi-presidential campaign by Gonzi, with the emphasis on the persona, the charisma and the man’s personal record.
Indeed Gonzi had a far more impressive campaign than Alfred Sant. But Sant had the more potent armoury, which was hidden and unleashed at the very last moment.

In the past, corruption was not something that touched the hearts of Maltese. In 1987 with all the rampant corruption and abuse of power – surely of no magnitude compared to the cases of today – the PN won by a mere 4,000 votes.
After years of violence, demagoguery and a police state, the PN won only by a small majority.
In the last 20 years, the PN’s commitment to changing the country was proven by the changes in the economic well being, the conversion of a central controlled economy to a market economy and more importantly in the entry of Malta into the European Union.
But throughout these years they failed to notice the writing on the wall. In moving ahead, they centralised the decision making process and limited it to the same small group of “yes men”.
The main concern was – and, I guess, will remain with whoever gets elected today – the disenfranchising of half of the population.
It varied from anything to ambassadorships to university rectors to public broadcasting chairmen to legal advisors to accountancy firms… and though there are always one or two exceptions, there is little doubt in my mind that most people who were capable but had a political flavour were excluded from this grand project.
It did not stop here. The malaise continued with the assertion that things would change with a re-elected PN government, when things did not change when there was a change in leadership in 2004. It was the saddest part of the last four years.
Okay, there were changes when it came to fiscal dealings and management and the Mater Dei question; but on other fronts the perception and reality were not far apart.

To foment this image, we had Alfred Sant. He has hung on to power despite his abysmal changes in policy change; on European Union membership, on VAT and so on.
His ability to wreak havoc with the Nationalist’s grand project should not be underestimated, and if elected he will have to prove himself.
The problem with Sant does not lie with his long history of changing policy direction, but rather with his rather unimpressive entourage.
Yet, in the Maltese psyche, the “democratic deficit” preached ad nauseam by Sant may have worked better than ever. He has also been supported by destiny. The first issue is the fact that the PN has been in power for over 20 years; then more significantly, comes the fact that we are now in the European Union as full members and this helps erase many of the excessive fears that came with the autarky and isolation of Old Labour.
But beyond this, there is little to prove that the mistakes committed by the Nationalist government will not be repeated by Alfred Sant.
That is to say, if there is even a change…

I would find it also very unlikely or rather impossible for the Greens or AN to make it this time round. Though the Greens have had a wonderful sympathy card for their campaign, played gratis for them by the PN.
The fact that the last two decades has failed to map out a solution for electoral reform for extending representation to smaller parties is an indictment on both major political parties. Whoever wins, must learn from the past.
In 1998, when Fenech Adami won thanks to the unsurprising tantrums of Dom Mintoff, he missed a golden opportunity to turn round and transform the future of Maltese politics.
He did this in 1987 when he refused to respond to the taunts of his hotheads that it was payback time. Many pre-1987 offenders were forgiven and reintegrated, with the exception of one or two scapegoats.
In 1998, Fenech Adami could have reformed the policy of political appointments; addressed the issue of electoral reform; changed public broadcasting; took steps on the issue of party financing, and worked on delineating a very clear line between government and party. But he had other things on his mind.
The next prime minister would fail if he did not address these issues for the benefit of coming generations. The fear in politics, is that the winner takes all and the loser un bel zero…. I am afraid I do not see this changing.
The pressure on political leaders to do away with the bigger picture and get on with dishing out of the goodies will possibly predominate the next coming days. I am in not hopeful for the future. I joked with my colleagues the other day, that we could plan the tabloidish poster for Monday’s issue: it would simply read: WE ARE F*****!
Common decency precludes us from doing this.

I am afraid I do not see a political leader with the vision to make such changes.
Even though, it is really this society that needs to change. It needs to become more conscious of the bigger picture and realise that the real breakthrough will only come when the issue of meritocracy is tackled and nepotism trashed. Beyond that, we also need to extend democracy beyond our normal understanding of representation.

The role of the independent media
The role of the media in this campaign has not been small. We were conscious of our role in this campaign and our role in not taking sides. We did this fully conscious of the risks such a policy brings with it.
But this will not stop us from continuing with our work to serve as a watchdog for our readers. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that our readers receive a true picture of events; one that is presented not in the fashion or style that politicians wish it to be presented, but in the manner that our discerning readers expect it to be.
In the last weeks, we have experienced many cases of intransigence and intolerance to our commentaries and reports.
There are politicians who cannot understand the role of the free press and who expect the press to be a mirror of their statements and press releases. And who believe that questions related to their business interest, lifestyle and their actions are off limits to reporters, when it is only too clear that their actions are in conflict with their words and deeds, and (if in existence) their ideology.
This newspaper and its sister newspapers, Illum, MaltaToday Midweek and Business Today have been a success story because they have been in synch with the mood.
In the future as we see politics converge at the centre; as we see the Americanisation of politics augment; as we see more emphasis on management rather than on ideology; a new opposition will emerge. That opposition is the independent media. It will stand for election, it will make promises and it will not dish out favours.
The new media will probe and question, and we promise to do this with whoever enters Castille on Monday. As we progress into the next decade, the probing will be tougher and more direct.
Our commitment is to make our newspapers a mirror of our readers’ concerns and their concerns faithfully reflected in our editorials and writings.
Stay with us for the next five years, we commit ourselves to stay with our readers and play the role we have always played.

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