There is little doubt in my mind that this evening, the electoral results will be significantly different from the last election. A day in politics is long, a year and two months is more or less equivalent to a decade.
I may be wrong in assuming that GonziPN will lose to an absolute majority, but if I turn out to be mistaken I will have no option but to eat humble pie. Nonetheless, if the MaltaToday surveys are as consistent as they have been so far, then it is obvious that GonziPN is facing an earth-shattering defeat at the polls.
No attempt to deflect attention from the final result in the eleventh hour will remove the blame of this result from Gonzi himself.
I am trying to imagine what is going on in Gonzi’s head right now. Surely he must be feeling alone. In times of crisis, the Cardinal, Richard Cachia Caruana, is traditionally nowhere to be seen. Legend has it that he is the kind of guy who appears only when there is a scent of victory. But when he smells the aroma of defeat his battle cry could well be “coraggio fuggiamo”.
Surely there are few people who can advise the Prime Minister at this particular moment. Simon Busuttil, the candidate who ran this lousy campaign, is more of a lawyer and businessman than a politician. Gonzi’s personal assistant Edgar Galea Curmi, more of a Jesuit than a strategist, and secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier will… well, I reserve commentary on him for another time.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that Gonzi has finally succumbed to his greatest weakness. The weakness of being unable to control what happens around him and his inability to decide.
The water and electricity tariffs that were shoved down everyone’s throats by Austin Gatt were blessed by the PM, in spite of the mistake of implementing the exaggerated tariffs when everyone was gasping for some oxygen. It was so badly structured, that the backlash was not entirely unexpected.
Then there were a 101 other considerations, namely a plethora of electoral promises and decisions that could not be justified or implemented. Here was a Gonzi who could not keep his promises. Whether it was reform at MEPA or breast cancer screening, or the Pharmacy Of Your Choice scheme or the dockyard workers, Gonzi was suddenly overtaken by events.
Then there were the direct orders and bad decisions before the last election, from the scandalous contracts at Mater Dei to the ‘secret’ agreements with the Armier squatters.
Yet more significantly, Gonzi alienated many people in the party who already were feeling left out. Needless to say, many backbenchers who had contributed to the last election’s victory and the past election wins were feeling alienated, ostracised and written off by the Gonzi clan.
The Office of the Prime Minister was in fact a showpiece of how Gonzi had lost control, with individuals in the secretariat having no obvious competence and political astuteness. Political officers there had more in common with Labour than with the middle-class PN.
On a totally different level, Gonzi’s commitment to widening meritocracy was an abysmal failure, apart from his singular act of nominating George Abela, a Labour man, for the office of President – which in turn revealed his dealings and failed commitments with PN veteran Louis Galea, who was also promised the same ceremonial posting. The continued complete influence of the State at PBS, and on numerous boards and agencies, made Gonzi’s declared “new way of doing politics” a farce.
The icing on the cake for Gonzi was the credit crunch and financial crisis, which seemingly had no bearing on Gatt’s consideration when introducing utility tariffs.
Apart from the evident strain on his administration and his limitations, this time around Gonzi has faced opposition of a new dimension. With only a single-seat majority, the ramifications of internal dissent has taken a new form and a new dimension. The declarations in today’s interview with Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando is symptomatic of what a number of backbenchers in the Nationalist Party are thinking.
Gonzi faces a gargantuan task after this evening’s result. He has threatened to reshuffle the Cabinet, but who can he remove and who can he appoint? Can he remove Austin Gatt? Or John Dalli? Or Giovanna? And why should he remove them in the first place?
With a one-seat majority, Gonzi may well face a serious threat to his very existence. No one it seems, has quite explained this fact to the Prime Minister.
And to add to all his present status, the Opposition is finally appearing in form after years in the wilderness. Apart from two or three minor hiccups, Joseph Muscat has invigorated the Opposition’s campaign, putting his youth and adrenaline into the campaign and offering a new outlook for the Labour Party.
And for once, the demonisation campaign has not quite worked. Worse still, the campaign focus of the Labour party was based on what people’s concerns were all about. Emulating the ethos that emotions win you elections, Muscat skilfully picked up the main ingredients that dominate people’s concerns: immigration, cost of living and work, and worked his campaign around these issues.
Gonzi’s decision to attack Labour on its choice of issues, inadvertently helped to convince more people that the real issues were not about who could press the correct button in Brussels, but how the local issues were going to be tackled here in Malta.
But if proof was needed that the Gonzi campaign was wilting and suffering from fatigue, the last hour on Net TV in one of the election night programmes this week was perhaps noteworthy. Confirming that there was no compunction over the role of public officers and political animals, the Net TV programme dragged Gonzi’s former PRO to the programme. Alan Camilleri today holds the post of Chairman of Malta Enterprise. And yet, Camilleri had no problems to endorse the PM and the candidates.
And that was not all.
As Muscat was addressing his audience about highly charged and emotive concerns such as immigration and cost of living and utility tariffs, Gonzi was trying to illustrate an arrogant Labour by reminding Net’s viewers that Muscat had arrived 30 minutes late for a Broadcasting Authority debate.
Once again Gonzi had completely underestimated how angry and dejected many middle-of-the-road voters are with this administration.
And just in case someone is wondering why I am using such tough language on Gonzi, read what the Times of London had to say about Gordon Brown yesterday.
Gordon Brown fighting on all fronts to save his job and his party
All week Gordon Brown has seemed to stagger towards what, with cruel historical coincidence, might best be described as his own political D-Day.
Deserted by colleagues, pounded by the Opposition, attacked by his own generals and sinking deeper into the quicksand of public opinion, he ends the week ragged and shell-shocked, gravely wounded, perhaps mortally so.
All week we have been treated to the vivid, excruciating and occasionally hilarious spectacle of political power wilting. Prime ministerial authority rests on shifting foundations: patronage, personal credibility, public support, party loyalty and the most indefinable quality of all, a sense of confidence and control. Fighting for survival, Mr Brown’s political muscles have seemed, at times, to seize up.
Last weekend saw a small but significant shift in popular culture. On the front page of this newspaper, alongside the worst results for Labour in polling history, Mr Brown was pictured, in a cartoon by Peter Brookes, as Susan Boyle, the troubled contestant from Britain’s Got Talent.
A number of complaints arrived at this office, but the sympathies of our readers were not with Mr Brown, mocked as a beleaguered bruiser in high heels and an ill-fitting dress, but with Ms Boyle. Only 21 per cent of voters said they would vote Labour.
“Britain’s Got Browned Off” read the headline. Looking back, this was the harbinger for the worst week of the Prime Minister’s political life.
This issue of MaltaToday is its 500th edition. Good reason to celebrate. Today MaltaToday is a household name and a success story.
500 weeks ago I started off a dream. I remember the editor of The Sunday Times informing me that this newspaper would die a natural death. I am glad to have proved him wrong. Today this project continues in spite of all the hostility towards MaltaToday’s style. This project will continue with or without my direct input, and thanks to the hardworking staff in the newsroom and at MediaToday.