Labour leader Alfred Sant made a courageous appearance on Monday just days into his convalescence, delivering an earnest breakdown of the medical details concerning the removal of a tumour in his colon and of the treatment he will be undergoing as he recuperates.
As Sant himself commented, it is expected in modern democracies that all information is made available on persons occupying important public roles – especially in a case concerning a person who expected to be prime minister in the near future. Sant’s health in this case, considering the ramifications of the major surgery he had to undergo, is a matter of public interest.
It is questionable as to what sort of statement Sant was attempting to make with his rather early appearance so soon after his surgery. After weeks of speculation, the leader of the Opposition was certainly signalling an end to most of the guessing, by himself presenting the minute details surrounding his health, the type of treatment, and the time he will spend undergoing chemotherapy. In a press conference where a visibly gaunt and heavily made-up Sant read out a four-page statement on his health, the Opposition leader was clearly preventing others from speculating any further on his health and future.
And yet, his candid statement may inspire courage in a section of the population – mainly his voters – but doubts for certain other voters.
For one, the MLP’s justification for press silence on his condition, attempting to shout down all attempts at ‘sensationalism’ by the independent press, was discredited outright. Sant’s condition was confirmed to have been a malignant tumour; and it is clear now that concerns for the Opposition leader’s family were given priority back in December over what could have otherwise been a clear statement on the health problems afflicting Sant and the treatment he required.
Although many see Sant’s performance yesterday as something which can attract sympathy votes for the leader and his party, there is no doubt that his facial expression, reflecting the harrowing ordeal of any major surgery, also served to instil doubts in some voters. Sant’s unfortunate experience has certainly generated a heartfelt and genuine concern from the Maltese. The sympathy card is expected to work wonders on the electorate. In the process, even the Nationalist party has had to tone down its strategy, usually based on personal attacks against Sant, by temporarily attacking the Labour party as a whole in a billboard reminding voters of Sant’s proposal to devalue the Maltese lira last year.
But other voters may also start reconsidering their choices as to whether they want to see in power a leader whose health has been through such a major ordeal. In their eyes, Sant is now a man who will be undergoing treatment for a period of four months – a time of recovery and treatment that is expected to come close to a May election, and one which will require gargantuan efforts for the Opposition leader to keep up with marathon public appearances, meetings and rallies.
Monday’s declaration by Sant may have been prompted by the need to quickly patch up on the lack of information concerning his condition when it was announced in December. But the premature appearance of Sant so soon after his surgery also reveals the way things should have never been done in the first place: Labour could have easily avoided such a roundabout way of delivering this information without having Sant read out the medical technicalities and details concerning his condition, in a state that must have given the Nationalist media some TV fodder for the usual lambasting tactics employed by the party’s media gurus.
With Sant’s promised return to address the party faithful in the Labour general conference in two weeks’ time, and deliver some fighting spirit prior to the big push to the general election, matters can be expected to slowly return to normal for the PN propaganda machine.