Sunday, 5 April 2009


5th April 2009
The Malta Independent On Sunday

This is the week where death leads to resurrection. I don’t mean to be religious but I take the pitch to refer to the resurrection of two types going on around us in the material world, one on the local scene and the other in the international arena.

This country installed a new President of the Republic yesterday. Dr George Abela, who less than a year ago contested the leadership of the Labour Party and was the delegates’ second choice for the post, was anointed President by a wide parliamentary majority. The decision was also hailed by a broad cross-section of the electorate, as evidenced from media reports and the general feel of street and cocktail party chatter.

While President Abela comes from Labour stables, which in itself is a refreshing change following four consecutive presidents that came directly from the PN parliamentary high echelons, he is respected for holding moderate opinions and for holding his ground well when all around him are losing their head.

Following the leak of his nomination with consensus between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, his approval by Parliament was just a matter of simple procedure. Yet it was interesting to see who among the great majority would show dissent to Abela’s nomination, either by voting against it, by abstaining or through discretionary absence.

The discretionary absence of PN MP Pullicino Orlando was quite expected, as the gentleman seems on a mission to send regular reminders to his own government that they depend on his vote to sustain parliamentary majority, and reinforces such reminders by disobeying his Whip on issues that do not threaten his government’s survival.

What was more interesting however was to note whether there would be any dissentions from Labour’s parliamentary crop. In fact there were three absences. One MP made a public statement that his absence was purely accidental due to another concurrent media engagement that could not be postponed. The other two made no comments leaving one to deduce safely that their absence was a wilful show of disapproval of Dr Abela’s nomination.

It is no coincidence therefore that the two open Labour dissenters were the former Labour leader and the former deputy leader who, with Dr Abela as the other Labour deputy leader, engineered in 1996 the only real Labour victory at the general election in the last 33 years.

This act symbolises all that was wrong with Labour since the pre-mature crash out of government in 1998 until its third consecutive general election defeat last year, eventually leading to the election of the current young Labour leader in a shift that reflects a generational change.

How Dr Alfred Sant and Dr George Vella found it appropriate to continue expressing their bitterness at their former colleague who has been elected to the dignitary post of President rather than rejoice that one from their ranks, irrespective of past differences, has been chosen to a post of high moral authority which Labour has not occupied since the days of Agatha Barbara, only proves their incompetence to lead; it proves why, since Dr Abela’s departure from the leadership trio in the summer of 1998, Sant and Vella became dysfunctional leaders leading the party to one defeat after another.

This is a great opportunity for Labour to resurrect itself under Joseph Muscat who can now work not simply to chip away the failed legacy he inherited from Dr Sant and Dr Vella, but to peel off layer after layer of it till he brings the party in good shape to become the people’s choice at the next general election where it really matters.

Dr Sant and Dr Vella this week, yet again, gave another demonstration that where it most matters they put their personal ambitions ahead of the party’s collective interest. This was a time to let bygones be bygones. In any event, time has amply proved that they were in the wrong and Dr Abela was in the right. Yet rather than suppress their personal bitterness leading to false pride, they yet again chose to put obstacles in the way of the new leadership and made an implied statement that they regret nothing they did in bringing Labour to the verge of extinction.

Just as in 1998, Sant and Vella betrayed Labour’s interest by forcing a quick early election rather than conduct behind the scenes negotiations to explore in a more calm and serene matter how to protect the electoral mandate gained less than two years earlier; just as in 2003 Sant and Vella rode roughshod over internal pressure to disengage the EU issue from a general election and render it a separate issue to be decided by a binding referendum; just as in 2008, Sant stayed on as leader and Vella stayed on as main spokesman for EU affairs even when it was clear to all that they were the biggest asset in the PN’s hands to depict Labour as an alternative that could not be trusted to make most of our new EU reality. Yet again this week they both proved that even from their opposition backbenches they still think that they and only they are right and the rest of the party, new leadership included, is wrong.

Sant and Vella should do the party and themselves a favour and give up their parliamentary seats to permit the new leader to bring in more forward looking Young Turks who can better guarantee success for Labour than the bitterness still harboured by Sant and Vella in their spirits. Their legacy is written and will not be changed. They are the main architects of Labour’s lost decade between 1998-2008. They cannot be part of Labour’s resurrection.

The G20 meeting held in London this week promises to be a resurrection for the world economy, which went into a tailspin since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers last September. From stones thrown at the house of a disgraced banker in Scotland, from workers “bossnapping” in France, from 90 per cent retrospective taxation in Washington, from the rich of the world creating a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose capitalism, there emerged from the G20 an air where the rich and poor of the world can work together to build a fairer system, keeping world trade flowing and giving access to resources to the poor nations, and hopefully leading to the conclusion of the Doha round of negotiations at the WTO giving better access for the poor to sell their wares in the markets of the rich.

There is a long way to go to translate the G20 objectives into a practical action programme. However, it seems that world leaders have read the history of the 1930 depression and decided that the risk of going down that route forced them into a spirit of collaboration, which had not been evident under the Bush administration.

May this be the true beginning of a sustainable resurrection of a fairer world economic and regulatory system!

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