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Saviour Balzan | Wednesday, 30 December 2009

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Istrina, what a man!

The charade that was, is no longer. And there is only one person to thank. That person is George Abela, the President of Malta.
He managed to raise money for charity without the traditional Where’s Everybody approach to bait for the donations with gifts. I heard that some companies were irked at their exclusion from l-Istrina. Good for them. I was sick and tired of seeing the shameless ‘sale’ of goods in return for charitable pledges. And how I loved to see the big smile on Abela’s face as the pledges continued to spiral higher and higher.
This column has not been too kind to George Abela (surprise…) in the past. But I do feel convinced that Abela is after all an honourable man with leadership qualities. He has outshone his predecessors, who were more interested in the pomp and the glory of their role. I take back all my previous comments on his limitations in delivering a speech: Actions, I am afraid, speak louder than words. And perhaps this is how we should gauge people, not by what they say, but what they do. Many Presidents before him have spoken volumes of verbal diarrhoea.
Years back, when this newspaper took the management at PBS to task for its lottery and gifts-for-charity spectacle, I was summoned by some PBS officials to alter my editorial stance on the subject. That is PBS for you: a State-run outfit that serves as a broadcasting fiefdom for the ruling party and some privileged blue-eyed boys.
It had to be the persona of George Abela who would change that trend and prove that charity does make part of the Maltese DNA. Previously, l-Istrina had become a theatrical rendition of bad variety, with Joe Azzopardi racing around like a lunatic and urging punters to part with their cash with big, bulging blue eyes, pleading with viewers to try their luck on the car lottery, or for a TV set. L-Istrina had been transformed into a circus, and an orgy of shameless hypocrisy. It reached its climax with the lottery of the BMWs purchased for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM)). What a bloody farce.
It was turned around because someone believed in the real character of the Maltese. It is not usual that something bad is turned back into good. It’s like a child that gets used to seeing DVDs and cartoons instead of playing with toys or listening to nursery rhymes. But by George, George turned it around.
Good for him, and good for us. Which takes me straight to President George Abela and the whispering campaign about his true intentions.
Many people believe that George was an honourable and decent man who, politically speaking, could have stripped the Nationalists and Gonzi especially of his power base by being elected Labour leader. I had my serious doubts. I may have been wrong.
The Istrina episode goes to prove that Abela does catalyse people to act and come together. And more importantly, it raises the question of whether he would have been better placed to lead the Labour party, instead of taking on the presidency.
If that was the case, then his leadership bid in the Labour party would have guaranteed a sure victory for the Labour party in the next election. It follows therefore, that his appointment instead of Louis Galea’s (who had been promised the post) by the great schemer (Lawrence Gonzi) was another masterstroke aimed at depriving the Labour party of a victory.
The same medicine Gonzi applied to Abela, he has applied to Dalli, who fell for the bait and will now be setting up his new abode in Brussels, exiled away from the disgruntled backbench.
Which is why the supposition that Joseph Muscat will surely win the next election, is certainly no foregone conclusion. As things stand today, the absence of a truly credible leader who can snatch thousands of Nationalist votes means that Gonzi can do it again next time round. Which is why Joseph Muscat needs to start asking himself a very simple question: why is it that so many disgruntled Nationalists cannot find the courage to embrace him as an alternative political leader?
The answer I am afraid, is not going to be found in the wisdom of people like Marisa Micallef Leyson. She may have led Muscat to believe she knows the road to Shangri-la, but her understanding of Nationalist psyche is poor. The only reason she is with Muscat is because she has nowhere else to go.
George Abela taught us a lesson. He taught us that people can believe in themselves and that they can be charitable without being lured into a lottery of sorts. So it follows that other awful habits inherent to our culture can change if we have someone to lead us or guide us.
It could be anything: from the idea that fun for kids equals getting sloshed in Paceville; to the idea that business and success in business is a question of who you know or do not know. Abela has struck a chord of hope in an otherwise bleak political landscape dominated by self-centred men and women with little interest in the long-term.

A Happy New Year to all.



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