This article was published in the Malta Indepenent on Sunday - 15th January 2012
The government and the PN seem to have been so upset and unprepared for the possibility of losing their single seat majority in parliament that they have lost all sense of logic and seem to have learned nothing from Alfred Sant’s experience in 1998. This is surprising given that they had warning signals flashing for several months.
They should have learned that in circumstances like these, the least said in public the better and that restoration of the majority stands better chance through direct encounters away from the cameras and reporters’ note pads, than through gladiator pronouncements issued for public consumption.
I have never seen the Prime Minister giving such a poor performance as he did on Xarabank of Friday 6th January when the issue blew up in public after the cabinet reshuffle.
His argument that the country needs stability and therefore he would not be seeking a vote of confidence in parliament is an absolute non sequitur. There can be no question about the need for stability, but such stability cannot come by continuing to govern without validating the executive’s parliamentary mandate when it is, in the best of circumstances, highly improbable that such parliamentary support still exists. It is the very uncertainty about the existence of a parliamentary majority that creates instability and the earlier the issue is resolved one way or the other, the better for everyone and for the national interest.
The Prime Minister’s argument that because there are important EU meetings scheduled for the coming weeks we should practically suspend the rules of democracy, is nothing short of condensed arrogance, to the point that it seems to be arguing that there is no one else who can represent Malta at such meetings other than Dr Gonzi.
Even more arrogant is the PN’s attack on the Opposition in general and its Leader in particular, as if the Opposition is responsible for their problems in parliament. The PN stooped as low as claiming that Dr Muscat was ‘bowing to extremists within his party and seeking a general election even though this was not in the national interest’.
That general elections are not in the national interest is a gratuitous assertion. What is surely not in the national interest is having government persist in executive authority without commanding a parliamentary majority. In such circumstances general elections would be very much in the national interest as a means to restore democratic stability. This unless the PN imply that stability depends on their being in government and that if the PL were to win a democratic mandate to govern they (PN) will still have the means, through their network with other cells of power in society outside politics, to destabilise a democratically elected Labour government.
The Opposition Leader has so far reacted with wise caution. The Speaker’s decision not to convene parliament early was accepted gracefully. He has also wisely counselled government to test its majority mandate in parliament and warned that undue procrastination would lead to instability. In such circumstances the Opposition will be left with no alternative but to settle the issue by demanding a vote of no confidence.
Or are the PN expecting Labour to support them in parliament to restore their lost majority? What goes round comes around even if it takes thirteen years. In 1998 the PN Opposition did all it could to foment trouble within Labour’s parliamentary ranks to negate a democratically elected government of its majority and force it to an early election when it had executed only one-third of the legislative term. This in spite of the fact that Labour had obtained a majority which should have produced a three seats margin rather than the one Mintoff-dependent seat it actually got.
The PN have executed three quarters of their legislative term for which it received a popular vote majority of only one half a parliamentary seat. However as parliamentary seats, unlike shoe sizes, don’t come in half measures they got an overstated majority of one parliamentary seat. Furthermore this majority is not being compromised by a senile 82 year old at the end of his political career and whom the PN had opposed for nearly half a century, but by a young MP who was never criticised by PL and who is standing for his views even if in the process he is sacrificing a promising political career.
In all this there is the insulting attitude, which exists even at the PN grass roots level, that the blues have a God given right to govern this country and that the reds are an inferior race, children of a lesser god, incapable of taking this country forward and whose electoral wins should remain at the level of local and European Parliament elections.
Logic seems to have taken its leave even at the Ministry of Finance. In order to get released from the EU discipline for Excessive Deficit Procedures (EDP) resulting from EU review of its 2012 Budget, it issued a dry statement, on the same Cabinet re-shuffle day, declaring that it had agreed to shave off 0.59% of the GDP from the Budget expenditure that Malta parliament had approved before the Christmas recess. 0.59% does not look like much until one explains that really it amounts to EUR 40 million which suddenly government has found it can do without.
This raises more questions than it answers. The Budget for 2012 projected a deficit of 2.3% of GDP. This is well within the 3% limit which triggers an EDP. So if the EU forced government’s hand to shave off 0.59% it means that the EU concluded that in its judgement the 2.3% calculated deficit was unrealistic and that it would have been nearer to 3.59%. This is a difference of EUR 87 million which could have resulted either because economic growth was considered too optimistic or because budgetary revenue was considered unrealistically high, or a bit of both.
Following all the process to have the Budget approved by parliament one would expect that such a major change coming so soon should be accompanied by an explanation as to why it was considered necessary and on which votes will the expenditure axe fall. Nothing of the sort! The press release simply states that the major part of the cuts will come from Programmes and Initiatives (0.21%) and Government Entities (0.17%).
Unless one assumes we are all morons and should accept government’s outbursts uncritically, we deserve a more detailed explanation.