Home > Opinion > Get ready folks. We’re in election mode

Get ready folks. We’re in election mode

by Josanne Cassar – The Malta Independent on Sunday

The signs are all there for those who have eyes to see. The unveiling of new projects and the bumped up publicity for anything that will remotely make this administration look good.

These are just some of the telltale indicators that the Nationalist Party has gone into election mode. Once the enormous shock of having lost the referendum wore off (for make no mistake, the huge blow to the No campaign was felt most by the men in suits housed in the glass building in Herbert Ganado Street), it was time to start the damage limitation exercise. Unfortunately, each attempt at saving face has misfired. To date, the PN simply continues to stumble from one PR gaffe to the other.

First, journalists were scolded by the Prime Minister for “putting pressure” on Members of Parliament about their voting intentions on the Divorce Bill. ‘Conscience’ has become the new buzzword, and our fragile MPs all seem to be paralysed with indecision because of it. That’s good to know because we’re all going to enjoy reminding them about their delicate conscience each time they slap a new tax on us.

Then former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami re-emerged to lecture us on why he is against divorce and why he has decided it’s morally wrong for society. Excuse me? Shouldn’t he be on some long Alaskan cruise or something, sipping from a mug of hot chocolate and enjoying his retirement with his wife Mary? Surely someone who was in public life for so long should now be dedicating some much needed quality time to his family, seeing that family values are so important to him.

The cherry on the cake, however, came a few days ago. Frank Psaila, the party’s information director told us that by the 1980s, thanks to Eddie Fenech Adami, the PN had succeeded in “radically shedding its much perceived confessional image and embarking on a fast- paced reform towards a social liberal agenda embedded in Christian democrat thinking”.

Social liberals hmm? That’s an interesting turn of phrase. I must have blinked when all this shedding of the confessional image was taking place because I’m sure I missed it. He ended his article with the following gem to which I’ve added my own observations: “The PN is synonymous with liberty (except when it comes to divorce), free choice (except when it comes to divorce), respect for human dignity (except for those who are separated) and, above all, solidarity (except with those who are separated). A healthier social liberal agenda (except when it comes to divorce) benefits the party (because it needs to be re-elected) but above all the country (because it needs to remain under our control). The PN needs to win back the trust (because it has lost it) of many social liberal voters (except those who voted for divorce) and it needs to do so now (because the PN has to win, because it always wins).

This Frank Psaila is quite a card, let me tell you, I was laughing for a good 10 minutes after reading his piece. Nice try Frankie… but I don’t think so.

Liberal, man

My good friend over on Facebook, Divorzistan, he of the brilliant satirical billboards, is once again on a roll depicting Frank Psaila complete with dreadlocks and coming up with all sorts of slogans about how, after the referendum result, the PN has now decided it wants to be a liberal party.

I think someone better break the news gently to Edwin Vassallo and Austin Gatt first. The Prime Minister, of course, will have to be told carefully, but not before they make sure he is sitting down. He seems to have recovered his colour somewhat after that sick greenish hue when the results were first announced two weeks ago, but you can still detect a certain quiet desperation in his eyes as he grapples with the knowledge that the Malta he believed he controlled no longer exists.

The conservative core within the PN may be the core that controls the party, which in turn controls this government. However, it is clear that this core is now completely isolated from the people it thinks it represents. When true blue Nationalists are seen openly disagreeing with Gonzi, scathingly voicing their disapproval of how he has handled the divorce issue and deriding him for being weak, ineffectual and hopelessly out of touch, then you know the PN is in trouble.

I have never seen a PN government so ridiculed and mocked by its own supporters, and this derision has increased since the Yes vote was won. It is like a breakthrough has been made in the minds of many people who, for once in their life, did not vote the way Papa PN told them to. To be fair, many devout Labour supporters also broke ranks with their party leader as well on this one, but let us remember that this is not the first time this has happened – the EU referendum was the breakthrough for them. In fact, I would suggest that at this point, certain Labour voters have no hang ups with being floating voters, whereas psychologically it has always been more difficult for a traditional PN voter to switch sides.

I’m not under any illusions of course. Voting Yes against the wishes of their party does not mean that these same Nationalists will vote for Labour. I can just hear the grinding of their teeth at the very thought of it.

However, my guess is that many more will abstain in 2013 than they did in 2008. (I’m sure Nationalist MPs won’t mind since they seem to have no problem abstaining from the vote on the divorce bill). They will stay home and refuse point blank to vote for their party, knowing full well this might mean a Labour government by default. The scare tactics of “Alla hares jitla l-Labour!” (God forbid Labour wins) just about worked in 2008 with those crucial 750 votes scraping through and landing us with this administration. But from the rumblings ‘on the ground’, it’s going to be practically impossible to terrify Nationalist voters into meek submission this time round. We had first-hand experience in the referendum of how a fully-fledged, expensively produced fear campaign can fall flat on its face when it is not in tune with public sentiment. That’s the thing with fears: once you face them head on, you realise that they are not as powerful as you imagined them to be.

Another speciality at election time is the use of dirty tricks, and we saw plenty of those in the referendum as well. Perhaps one of my favourite TV moments was when Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and Michael Falzon confronted Claudio Grech and Lawrence Zammit (who emerged from the shadows to admit that they were behind the No lobby), accusing them of using underhanded, dirty tricks to try and win the referendum. The irony was simply too rich. I’m sure it was not lost on viewers either, as the penny dropped: this is precisely how the PN won the last election, but now that Nationalists themselves were on the receiving end, it left them with a bitter taste.

Reality check

At one point during the referendum campaign it occurred to me that maybe those of us commenting on the Internet were getting it all wrong, and that we were not representative of what the rest of the country was feeling. It is easy to become lulled into a false sense of what is real, especially on Facebook, because you assume that what “everyone” on the social media network is saying is, in fact, a reflection of the real world. I had to keep reminding myself that there is a whole section of Malta that is completely cut off from Facebook and other sites.

But, as it turned out, virtual Malta was more in touch with reality than Gonzi was.

jcassar@independent.com.mt

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