Sunday, 20 March 2005

What a Cheek

The Malta Independent on Sunday 


The local council election results are what they are. They leave little room for interpretation. The electorate is unimpressed with government's performance in office and those who voted, as well as those who stayed away,` delivered a clear warning to government that it has over-promised and under-delivered.

It would be wrong to read into the results much more than this. The relevance of local election as a reliable prognosis for the next general election is limited; both because of the substantial time gap between the two and the fact that voters' motivations in a general election could be quite different than in local elections.

If it is true that one week is too long in politics than three years must be eternity. Whilst Labour have every reason to celebrate last week's result which must be beyond their best expectations, it would be irresponsibly dangerous to jump to undue conclusions regarding the general election.

Rather than focus on what the MLP is now going to do to ensure they build on this momentum till next general election, it is proper to ask what is government going to do for the rest of this legislature. It is most unfair for government sympathetic The Times to demand editorially that Labour expose their detailed plans to persuade us that they merit to be considered as an alternative government.

We have a government that has been in office for a continuous period of 18 years (bar 22 months) and yet has no real detailed plans for the three remaining years of this legislature. What a cheek to expect the opposition to explain in detail their plan which they could only put into effect three years hence if they win the election, and then stop short of demanding same from government in office.

The bad motives behind such call are clear. The Maltese economy is a sick patient. Voters at a general election will have to choose between tasking a Labour doctor or a PN doctor to engineer some sort of recovery.

The choice is between the PN doctor who by benign neglect over an extremely long period of time has landed us in a economic mess and keeps reassuring us that all is under control and according to plan as we sink deeper into debt, economic stagnation and loss of global competitiveness. The alternative Labour doctor has plenty of academic degrees but by virtue of being out of government for 18 years cannot furnish proof of practical savvy for the challenges that await it if it is tasked into office.

Labour can however provide a comfort which the PN cannot. Being free of the guilt of commission for the present situation, the Labour doctor can look at the economic problems more objectively and devise more effective, though not painless, solutions.

On the other hand the PN doctor is prejudiced by his own guilt in minimising the size of the economic problems that need to be addressed and wastes scarce and valuable resources in hiding the problems rather than in addressing them.` The PN doctor contradicts himself in the same breath in demanding a national effort to address the problems (remember` the appeals for a social pact) but simultaneously pretending that we are about to be snowed under new investment which is on its way to regenerate the economy and put us back on a fast growth path.

In such circumstances an objective electorate at next general elections ought to deliver a clear verdict against the PN. They have had much more than their fair chance to deliver. They are clearly unable to get us out of the rut as their guilt of commission cannot allow them to be perceived as an honest broker in putting together a national effort to address the issues without further delay.

Labour's lack of experience still offers some prospect of engineering a successful recovery whilst the PN's obstinate non-performance offers none. Between now and next election Labour will have to impress the electorate that they are fully aware of the size of the problems that await them if they are tasked to govern , that they have the energy, ability and willingness to solve the problems and re-modernise the country` rendering the economy more flexible and competitive, and that they can make the electorate focus on the benefits of the cure rather than the unavoidable pain of the remedial measures.

Appeals for Labour to provide details of their plan so prematurely could have only the motivation to depict the measures in their darkest colours, shifting the focus of the electorate from the benefits of the cure to the pain of the measures, hoping to scare-off the electorate from trying out the Labour doctor so that we can continue with the utterly ineffective PN doctor who is borrowing from future generations in order to extend its long expired economic life.

And the cheekiness was also evident in the off-handed way the Prime Minister dismissed the drubbing his party suffered as normal mid-term legislature blues. Granted, a government has to take unpleasant measures in the first half of the legislature hoping to reap the benefits by the end before facing the electorate for its judgment.

But was that not the situation in 1998 when Labour was forced to seek renewal of its mandate after less than two years when it could only expose the pain but not the gain` So how can the PN remain credible if they consider last week`s drubbing as the normality of midterm blues but then label Labour's 1998 loss of government as incompetence to govern`

Was that not also mid-term blues, with the proviso that the election was forced to come in the mid-term, as a direct result of electoral gerrymandering,` giving the 1996 Labour government a much smaller parliamentary majority than the people had willed`

There is much validity in Labour's call for revision of election laws to ensure that the next government to be tasked to engineer a painful economic turnaround is comforted by a parliamentary majority that accurately reflects the will of the people`s vote.

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