Editorial | Sunday, 07 February 2010

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A can of worms

The forthcoming by-election for John Dalli’s parliamentary seat – which will be vacated next week, if the European Commission is indeed confirmed as expected – will most likely be remembered for the dangerous precedent it has clearly set in Maltese politics.
As things stand, the only possible contenders are now Siggiewi mayor Robert Musumeci, and Dr Philip Micallef, a general practitioner from Zebbug. Of these, Micallef is understood to be the better-placed candidate to benefit from the transfer of Dalli’s votes; and unlike his rival, he is also widely believed to enjoy the backing of the party.
At the time of writing, neither Micallef nor Musumeci has confirmed his intention to stand for the imminent election. But one of them has already been placed under extraordinary (and quite frankly unprecedented) pressure to withdraw.
Last Wednesday, our midweek edition reported how the Office of the Prime Minister had contacted Robert Musumeci the previous day, advising him not to enter his candidature for John Dalli’s seat. Naturally, the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to express his own personal preferences with regard to Dalli’s successor – especially considering the seditious atmosphere that currently reigns over his backbench – but given the unique circumstances, one must also question his methods.
The precise sequence of events last Tuesday is particularly telling. At 9.48am that same morning, Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia triumphantly announced on her blog (after ‘making a few phone-calls’) that Musumeci was already ‘out of the running’. Furthermore, she surmised that Musumeci would not be allowed to contest future elections by the PN – at a time when she herself had spent the better part of a whole week subjecting the same Musumeci to a ferocious barrage of personal attacks, the like of which has arguably never before been seen in the local media.
The question arises as a matter of course. Would OPM have called Musumeci and asked him to withdraw his candidature, were it not for the sudden exposure of details of his private life in the online media... by the same source that pre-emptively trumpeted Musumeci’s withdrawal from the race that very day?
And more to the point: why have details of Musumeci’s private life suddenly become an issue only now, that he stands a perceived chance to gain a seat in parliament... and not before the March 2008 election, when the same Musumeci was actively encouraged to contest by his party? (Or for that matter, the last local council elections, held the year before?)
It would be pertinent to ask also why such ‘revelations’ have even come to light at all. It is not as though Musumeci’s indiscretions were unknown to anyone with his or her ear to the ground. Ostensibly, Robert Musumeci has been ‘outed’ over the fact that he is in an extra-marital relationship with a magistrate, Consuelo Scerri Herrera; and has been for several years. But Malta being the place it is, this relationship has long been known and talked about in private among various circles: not least, the PN’s own inner sanctum.
It seems therefore that it was only last week – when there was some prospect of Musumeci getting elected to parliament – that such behaviour was suddenly viewed as ‘unbecoming’ of a Nationalist party candidate, and worthy of exposure as ‘news’.
From this perspective, it is easy to discern the Machiavellian tactics at work behind the no-holds-barred attack on Robert Musumeci and his partner. But this only prompts another question, which in turn should ring alarm bells in the minds of numerous PN exponents (parliamentarians or otherwise).
What is sauce for the goose is invariably sauce for the gander. And now that an individual’s personal family status has been so clearly exploited for political ends, one expects the same yardstick to be applied equally to all Nationalist Party candidates – be they favoured by Gonzi or not.
This newspaper will resist the temptation to expose other, analogous cases of ‘improper’ behaviour among politicians – that, after all, appears to be the unique preserve of one blogger in particular; if only on her own terms and when it suits her purpose – but if Musumeci can be forced out of politics because one person chose to expose his dirty linen at a strategic moment, then the same tactic can always be used again... and again and again... and not necessarily to the PN’s advantage.
One need hardly add that a very dangerous precedent has now been set: a precedent that all current and future political candidates have very good cause to dread. The proverbial ‘can of worms’ has now been violently prized open, and there is absolutely no telling what hideous creatures will soon come crawling out, to haunt the present administration in the near future.

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A can of worms

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