Crucify him!

The 6th of January 2012 has proven to be a veritable climactic and political mess for the otherwise serene and sturdy islands of Malta. It falls upon us then, as rational human beings who are not inclined to view everything through partisan lenses, to try to make some sense of it all - if such is indeed possible. After all, if the press is not willing to ask questions, somebody should. 

Let me start with the Hon MP Franco Debono (Nationalist Party). Franco seems to me to be a politician of the highly ambitious species, yet childishly innocent in the manner in which he displays his ambition so publicly. A more skilled politician would certainly be shrewder, more cunning perhaps, willing to bide his time and plot subversion in the shadows ultimately to get what he or she wants without ruffling too many feathers. But Franco has openly defied and criticised the Prime Minister to a point where there seems to be no turning back. The parallels with Dom Mintoff under Sant's government are striking. Sant's fatal mistake was not to tie a simple vote to a vote of confidence. What Lawrence Gonzi and so many others declared as a 'mistake' is to me an act of gentlemanliness of the highest order, for Sant had the courage to sacrifice power for the sake of serenity and stability of the country when a backbench MP was defying him so openly and consistently in a one-seat majority scenario. No, just like Sant, Gonzi's mistake was indeed not to give Franco a portfolio that would truly satisfy him. Let's face it, a Prime Minister should not be held hostage by a backbench MP but this is precisely why he should also be cunning enough and have the foresight to ensure stability in his own party if he is to ensure stability in the nation. Such is the game that is politics. Of course, this is the case only insofar as we make the assumption that Franco Debono did what he did purely out of spite for not being given a ministerial portfolio - something that is not yet absolutely clear for this whole story has yet to be written. 

Now, Franco's rebellious streak has been characterised by Nationalist Party stalwarts and diehards alike as nought but folly, immaturity, disloyalty and even madness or mental lunacy. The established default position is one of absolute loyalty to leader and party. Obviously, for Labour Party diehards he is a veritable hero (further echoes of the Sant-Dom Mintoff saga of 1998). From a partisan perspective this seems to make some sense but it troubles me to see this default position advocated by most mainstream independent press and journalists, which, as the nation's 'fourth institution', has an utmost duty to ask questions and uncover the truth, especially from those that govern and seek to govern. Vicariously, it seems, the independent press also advocates absolute loyalty to leader and party and this, I must say, is highly disturbing in a democracy.

For all his "lunacy" Franco Debono has advocated very reasonable and much needed changes or updating of our laws, such as for example, the right to legal counsel during police interrogation (which entered the statute books in 2002 but was not enforceable until 2010); a complete separation of powers between inquiring magistrates and magistrates that adjudicate; the splitting of the justice ministry from home affairs owing to a conflict of interest between the two and so on. In my opinion these are all positive steps tending to strengthen the administration of justice and, ultimately, democracy. Why hasn't the press questioned the hesitance to bring about such reforms I wonder? Yet, since time immemorial, it seems that the "gadfly" must make the apology and take the poison - and I am shocked to see that this is also endorsed by the press. In other democracies, such as the United Kingdom and Italy, open dissent and criticism within political parties is run of the mill. British philosopher John Stuart Mill once said that people holding objectively true and just opinions "ought not to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth". It is a shame that such spirit and vigour is looked down upon and trodden; it is a stain on our democracy.

This is not to say that Franco Debono is flawless. He is indeed imperfect (as are we all) and, at times, highly volatile or perhaps stubborn and politically immature - traits which expose a certain weakness and do no justice to his cause in the end. Franco, publishing your Form 2 Mid-Yearly report to prove your sanity was utterly unnecessary and counter-productive.

Now to Lawrence Gonzi. He says that we should all be proud that we have weathered the storm of financial trouble but we are not immune; that he was right to give a significant pay raise to himself and his Ministers behind even his own party's back but, even though we are faring perfectly fine economically (albeit not immune), it is somehow...not right any longer. He also says that what Malta needs now is stability but he is perfectly satisfied with the scenario where one MP (Franco Debono) has openly declared that he will not support his government any longer. In fact Lawrence Gonzi has said that he will do everything in his power to hold off elections until the last day of the current legislature. I wonder if this will translate into parliament not being reconvened for as long as possible and a complete lack of parliamentary debate for the next fourteen months. Perhaps laws will only be passed by means of legal notice (around 90% of them already are) without any debate whatsoever. How's that for democracy and stability? And I wonder, who is really desperate to cling onto power?

If the press continue to trod on so negligently and refuse to ask such questions by adopting a neutral position in reporting only what has been said and, to top it all off, crucifying rebel MPs for their lack of loyalty than I will lose what little hope I have left. 

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