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No Eddie, No Joseph

It’s impossible to understand the current woes of the PN without realising that Fenech Adami’s victories were so absolute that he left his own party without a raison d’etre

Joseph Muscat being sworn in as leader of the opposition in 2008 by then President Eddie Fenech Adami (Photo: DOI)

If an election were to be held tomorrow, Joseph Muscat’s Labour would win by a whopping 82,000 votes. As incredible as it sounds, that is what the latest MaltaToday survey shows.

Although such extrapolations should always be taken with a pinch of salt, surveys give a snapshot of the country’s current mood. Ultimately, internal surveys are probably showing the same picture to the number crunchers and strategists (if there are any) at the PN’s headquarters.

Many PN supporters must be asking why Labour has more than doubled its lead in just 12 months. After electing a new leader, PN supporters must be asking themselves why they still cannot get it right. They must be feeling the same frustration and angst many Labour supporters felt between 1987 and 2013.

An explanation to the PN’s woes might lie in the misfortunes of its eternal rival when the tables were turned.

For years, Labour supporters were in a political wilderness as the people at the helm of the party – with the exception of the short lived 1996 electoral victory – could not translate numerous electoral successes at local council level into a victory in the general elections.

For many years Labour was left frustrated as it could not breach the walls of the PN fortresses at University and Gozo, among other electoral cohorts and districts.

In the eyes of the electorate, the PN stood for progress, modernity and economic stability, and it had a vision for the country’s future which was in synch with the people’s dreams and aspirations.

On the other hand, a majority of voters continuously snubbed Labour and it felt like the Party was stuck in a time warp.

Then came Muscat and the tables turned. His brilliance rests in his ability to mimic former PN Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami to perfection. The Sunday Times carried two reportages which illustrate the extent of Muscat’s metamorphosis into ‘Eddie’.

Two ministers, Carmelo Abela and Chris Cardona, were caught with their trousers down. The former allegedly used government workers to build a wooden canopy in his private residence while the latter could give no explanation to his expensive tax-payer funded solo trips abroad.

Abela’s “I have to check as I don’t know who did this work” answer is far from satisfactory and if the allegations are proved to be true then he should resign. But this is hardly Spain or the UK where politicians resign for much less.

Abela’s answer sounds very much like former Berlusconi minister Claudio Scajola’s sudden amnesia when asked about the purchase of a luxury flat near the Colosseum in Rome some eight years ago.

Abela’s lapse of memory also has echoes of works carried out on the homes of previous PN ministers such as Louis Galea, Tonio Fenech and Joe Cassar.

PN ministers caught with their pants down often got way with a rap on the knuckles in the privacy of Fenech Adami’s office and Muscat’s leniency with Abela and Cardona will be par for the course.

If anything, Muscat has set a new standard by keeping Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri by his side.

Some prominent opinion makers always struggled to understand why the PN was held to lower standards than Labour.

The argument would more or less sound like, “if a Labour politician is accused of some wrongdoing she or he is taken to the cleaners while if somebody from the PN’s ranks is accused of the same thing they would get away with it.” Two weights, two measures they would predictably say.

But in reality, the PN does not automatically hold a higher moral ground and Labourites do not suffer from an innate inferiority complex. It’s all about power.

The party which is on the crest of the wave has the comfort of its electoral majority to manage such situations, while the party in opposition is subject to bigger public scrutiny given that most of the mainstream media is directly or indirectly controlled by the Party in government.

Just like Louis Galea and John Dalli before them, Carmelo Abela and Chris Cardona will get away with their extravagances scot-free and there will be no public outrage.

The reason behind this is not party membership but the ability of the Party in power to turn the accused into victims and the accusers into offenders.

Beholders of power are vested with a semblance of infallibility and invincibility and Muscat, like Fenech Adami, was well prepared to turn adverse situations in his favour from his very first day in office.

Fenech Adami will be best remembered for guiding Malta out of democratic limbo in 1987 and into the EU16 years later. But his legacy is also Muscat’s Malta.

It’s impossible to understand the current woes of the PN without realising that Fenech Adami’s victories were so absolute that he left his own Party without a raison d’etre.

Fenech Adami’s long run of electoral supremacy showed that he had a deep understanding of country’s aspirations and it became obvious that unless Labour embraced that understanding, it would be stuck in the opposition benches perpetually.

Muscat understood this very well and, like Fenech Adami, his bombastic victories could leave his Party rudderless once he packs his bags. Then we’ll start wondering whether Labour can overcome the PN’s insurmountable lead in the polls.

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