Not all is well at Elsinore
You may recall that on January 19 of this year, in my first piece for this column, I invited readers not to hide their head in the sand. “Anybody with even the most rudimentary of political antennas,” I wrote, “has intercepted signals that indicate that we are approaching a zone of severe turbulence.” I also remarked that the Prime Minister’s inability to look relaxed and self-confident fuelled widespread suspicion that all is not well at Elsinore.
It’s April 27 and it’s not getting any better. Now if you consider that the Nationalist Party has a great record of keeping up appearances even when the ship is sinking, then we should consider the possibility that the PN is not all there. Certainly it is a far cry from the “one for all and all for one” movement that brought down Labour in the 1980s. If anything, it reminds me of Labour itself in its worst moments. The run up to the 1987 election is a case in point.
I disagree with those that reduce the whole situation to a matter of parliamentary arithmetic. What take place in the House of Representatives and environs are mere surface phenomena. They are the reflection of seismic processes deep below the political crust. Whatever is wrong in the PN is happening away from the lazzi and the burle of Malta’s political commedia dell’arte with its Arlecchinos and Truffaldinos, its Brighellas and Pantalones, its Pedrolinos and Capitani, its Scaramuccias and Tartaglias, its Signoras and Colombinas.
It is unfolding at the level of civil society, in its innards and entrails. That is where we have to look if we are to understand what is happening to the party that has ruled this country for 20 out of the past 22 years. It is in the viscera of our society that we have to conduct our enquiries. If you do, you will find that the PN can no longer rely on the automatic support of social groups and networks that have traditionally backed it as a matter of course. The Stamperija – as many of its former militants still fondly and nostalgically refer to the Pietà Dar Ċentrali (headquarters) – has taken them for granted for far too long.
The less articulate among them, when approached, shut themselves in an embarrassed and embarrassing silence. They are hurt by the attitude of their party’s bureaucrats who add insult to injury when they explain away the apathy of former activists with tired old clichés. The stock Pietà explanation is that it is only a bunch of ungrateful grumblers who get what they want (jinqdew) nine times out of 10 but threaten to tear up their vote because you can’t satisfy their tenth request for a pjaċir (favour).
The more articulate among them, on the other hand, kick the insult back to sender and turn the diagnosis on its head. “When we complain to Pietà about this or that issue – not personal issues, not requests for favours but about problems that are causing a haemorrhage of votes – nine times out of 10 we are ignored and in the one out of 10 cases when we get to voice our concerns, we are told that the government knows what it’s doing.”
It is not only many of the older rank and file that are profoundly disillusioned with “their” party and with the insensitive attitude of its apparatchiks – “arroganti u injoranti”, as one angry senior citizen put it – but, increasingly, its younger members, students in the first place. It is as if a spell has been broken. Blind quasi-tribal political faith driven by clientelism has not, however, quite disappeared. Whether we like it or not it still constitutes the flesh and sinews of politics in Malta.
It will not “… melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew” of its own accord. It will take a lot of guts and hard work to transform the fidili (the tongue-in-cheek ambiguity of the vernacular is fascinating) into politically-discerning citizens who will not be taken for granted. But the first tremors are being felt. If you put your ear to the ground you will hear muffled but unmistakable subterranean rumblings.
Let’s be as clear as we can. This concerns all parties. The change that a growing number of Maltese and Gozitans want will impact all current and wannabe political practitioners at all levels: local, national and European. If the saints refuse to go marching out, the former faithful will march out on them… and if, when this happens, the saints don’t get out of the way, they may well be trampled upon. Metaphorically, of course.
This article appeared in Mario Vella regular column on The Times of Malta. You can read the original and reactions to it at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090427/opinion/all-is-not-well-at-elsinore