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EDITORIAL | Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Party interests, first and foremost

Once again, both of Malta’s larger political parties have chosen to hold their respective fundraising activities on the eve of the Christmas celebrations. True, Christmas is a time for giving: traditionally, to the needy and less fortunate. Neither the PN nor the MLP quite fits in this category; in fact, their decision to hog the media limelight at this sensitive time speaks volumes of the self-importance with which both institutions have now come to view themselves.
Looking back on the many polemics of 2007, the picture that emerges is one of a political stalemate in which the two major players are so deeply engrossed in their own electoral fortunes, that they seem to have lost sight of the concerns of the electorate they are supposed to represent. And the closer elections get, the greater this detachment seems to grow.
There are many examples, but only a couple ought to suffice. One of them is hunting: an issue which in fact provided one of this year’s first telltale signs of imminent unrest for the party in government.
In March, the hunters’ and trappers’ federation FKNK took its members to the streets in protest after it became apparent that the government had not really secured any derogation on spring hunting in its pre-accession negotiations with the European Union.
Apart from degenerating into an unsightly melee, in which a number of journalists were mobbed and injured, the protest also served to illustrate the limitations of the hunting lobby to begin with. In the end, an estimated 7,000 hunters gathered in Republic Street, Valletta, in response to the FKNK’s rallying cry: a small number, compared with the overwhelming majority which would prefer to see the government take a firm stand against a lobby which has already cost this country a great deal in terms of international reputation.
But for all this, the government persisted in opening the Spring hunting season in 2007 in defiance of the European Commission, and has even pledged to fight on the hunters’ behalf in the European Courts of Justice in 2008.
The issue has likewise placed the Labour Party in the awkward position of seeking to gain the hunters’ confidence with a series of behind-the-scenes meetings spearheaded by deputy leader Michael Falzon, in which hunters were promised that enforcement under a Labour government will not be as “excessive” as it is today. Such is the extent of the absurdity that a Labour MP – Joe Abela – last week made a public plea on behalf of the hunting community in parliament, claiming that hunters are being somehow victimised by law enforcement officers.
In both cases, it is plain to see that the non-hunting majority has been sidelined, and its concerns and aspirations totally ignored by both sides in an increasingly illogical struggle for power at all costs.
A second, more potentially explosive example is that of irregular immigration: a serious issue which unfortunately has given rise to growing manifestations of xenophobia and social injustice, especially insofar as illegal employment is concerned.
We have seen from the experience of other countries what the possible consequences of failing to integrate immigrant minorities can be: ghetto-isation, resentment and the threat of possible serious social repercussions in future. And yet, despite the gravity of the issue, neither of the two larger parties has a clear policy on immigration, other than to repeat meaningless rhetoric which in most cases is not even consistent.
Sadly, the net result of this is that the only people voicing popular concern about this vexatious issue are the ones who are least likely to make a positive overall contribution. Inflammatory speeches by the likes of Joe Sammut (MLP) and Franco Galea (PN) may well boost their own individual electoral fortunes, but will certainly not help solve any of the problems surrounding the issue. Elsewhere, the emergence of “new” political parties (characterised by the same old political faces), with their childish proposals to simply “ship out” immigrants for all the world like excess cargo, have only served to lower the standards of an already practically non-existent debate.
In other spheres and political controversies, the same pattern of “party interest first and foremost” continues unabated. The PBS saga, which has reached new levels of absurdity with the resignation of the chairman of the editorial board, is only viewed by the two parties insofar as their own political interests and objectives may or not be served by the national station. Any vestige of a “national broadcasting service” for the benefit of the population has long since fallen by the wayside.
Elsewhere, the Prime Minister’s failure to take decisive action against individual in cases such as the driving licenses scandal earlier this year – which, again, has to be seen in the context of an eternal partisan power struggle – has severely undermined public trust in national institutions such as the Transport Authority, as well as raising serious questions about the accountability of Cabinet ministers. This failure could only be greatly accentuated by the Prime Minister’s decision to accept another minister’s resignation, despite claiming to have seen no fault in the man… a decision which he has since had to publicly reverse.
These and other instances over the past year clearly illustrate that Malta’s political class has yet to outgrow a somewhat childish sense of its own importance at the expense of the national interest. Sadly, this does not augur well for the coming electoral year.

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