MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | Laburisti wake up

OPINION | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Laburisti wake up

Pamela Hansen

I must say that the way the Malta Labour Party is running its leadership contest makes me glad it did not make it at the general election.
Had the MLP been an individual, I would say he had a death wish and would recommend therapy. Don’t these guys (the boys in control) ever learn? They kept shooting themselves in the foot in the run up to the last general election, and lost when the country really would have welcomed a change.
How could a party change, for the better, the way a country is going when it cannot even get its own house in order?
And they are still scoring own goals. When I got the information on Wednesday afternoon that the party apparatchiks were making it crystal clear that they have decided whom the next leader will be, and that no other contender will be given a fair go at challenging him, I could not believe it.
This was political suicide for the MLP. Muzzling any challenge is outrageous. I know that some still underestimate the public, and in this case, Labour Party supporters, but they ain’t that stupid!
It is not only the local political channels that are accessible to them and they can see what is going on way beyond Super One.
The MLP is run as an oligarchy and that has been made abundantly clear by the pronouncement, which seemed to have come out of Zimbabwe, that all contenders for the leadership post were barred from any public comment and that not abiding by that directive would mean being disqualified from the race.
The chairman of the MLP disciplinary, vigilance and appeals boards told Joseph Falzon, the chairman of Labour’s internal electoral commission, recently set up to oversee the contest, to inform “whoever showed an interest to contest” that “any comments given to the media” will automatically disqualify them from the contest.
What skeletons are the MLP scared of being unearthed?
When Jason Micallef was outed on YouTube with his “bejnietna l-Laburisti”, the writing was on the wall, and by “bejnietna” he really meant the small enclave at its headquarters.
By Thursday an odd thing was happening. We kept hearing that Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was still going to hold a press conference, but she was not declaring whether she was putting her hat in the ring.
However, it was clear to me that she was getting different signals than others in the race.
Of course some had already got a good slice of publicity so it seemed to me that the real target of the ban was George Abela.
That was confirmed when on Friday mid-morning Ms Coleiro Preca announced her candidature for the leadership at the pre-announced press conference, and said that the ban had been lifted.
She told reporters that she was told that the media ban had been lifted when she phoned the chairman of the MLP electoral commission on Thursday night, yet no one thought of letting Dr Abela know of the change of heart.
There must have been a lot going on at the party’s headquarters, with perhaps a sane voice pointing out that these MLP machinations are unsophisticated and outdated and would only serve to further damage the party.
You have to admire Marie Louise’s guts. She has shown she can handle the intrigues and that she is going to give them a run for their money. She did after all get the most votes after Alfred Sant at the general election.
Frankly, they (those boys again) do not seem to have a clue. Their press releases want us to believe that the MLP is open and transparent and ready for change, but Jason Micallef’s outbursts consistently contradict the public party statements.
His latest was on a TV programme when he made it clear that he would not be supporting Dr George Abela’s bid for the party’s leadership, and dismissed any idea of anybody but the delegates having a say in who will rule the MLP.
As I wrote in the past weeks, I could not see the party, as it stands, embracing the progressive reforms suggested by Dr Abela and Labour academic, Dominic Fenech.
Of course the Nationalist Party has its own enclave and infighting, but they manage it a lot better. The sometimes bitter rivalry at their last leadership contest was played out in full public view. And although it also had “the chosen one”, it did not muzzle other contestants from airing their views. On the contrary, it had been an election that involved the whole nation, although it was only the PN delegates who could vote. Now that is what I mean by sophistication.
The MLP instead have only managed to further bungle their leadership election by first trying to gag any prospective contender and then renege on that crazy idea. Besides, a prospective candidate delivered the news of the lifting of the ban.
There had been no formal communication from Labour’s internal electoral commission by the time I sent this in.
The general election loss was mainly blamed on Alfred Sant, but he has gone now, or has he? And there are attempts at moving Jason Micallef, but will there be much change even if Alfred Grixti takes over as general secretary?
The party is in turmoil, but power is so difficult to give up and unless some strong elements within the party decides that, in the GWU’s words, “Enough is enough”, the MLP will carry on losing election after election.
And we should care because a consistently weak opposition is disastrous for the country.
If the MLP really wants to have a hope in hell of bringing change to the way the party is run, it has to let go of its old grudges.
The people who are trying to bar George Abela from the contest have to come to terms with the fact that he was right in his view that the Labour Government should never have gone for an early election in 1998, when he was deputy leader.
The MLP never recovered from that debacle. And it seems to me that the MLP abandoned George Abela, not the other way round.

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