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MT 8 May 2016

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maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 24 Opinion Case closed… regrettably G ee, what a surprise. Two parliamentary votes of confidence in as many weeks, and… wonder of wonders. The outcome was exactly the same for each. A victory for the party in government – which now has a double excuse to simply carry on disregarding the Panamagate outcry indefinitely – and a defeat for the MPs in Opposition. And by exactly the same margin, too: 36-31… by a huge coincidence, the same seat difference that separates government from opposition anyway. If this were the outcome of a local Premier league encounter, I would suspect that the entire match had been rigged. (And, in that context, I would almost certainly be right, too.) Same score in two games? Both scores favourable to one side in exactly the same way? Way too much of a coincidence, I would think. But in this particular game, the rules are not as haphazard as football. With only very few exceptions – Mintoff in 1998, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando in 2011, etc – the outcome of any given parliamentary vote is almost always a mathematical certainty. Realistically speaking, there cannot possibly have been a single soul in the entire country who genuinely expected a different result in either vote. I would assume that also includes Opposition leader Simon Busuttil and MP Marlene Farrugia: the respective auteurs of this latest twist in the Konrad Mizzi saga. Both know only too well how Parliament works here… having sat in it themselves for quite some time… so both would (or should) have been fully aware of the implications of failure in this instance. Yet they forged on all the same, all the way to certain defeat: oblivious even to dissenting voices emanating from within the PN itself, which rightly questioned the wisdom of such a patently flawed strategy. If, under the circumstances, we can talk about two Opposition 'parties' here (the Nationalist Party, and the as yet unofficial 'party of Marlene')… then we must also conclude that both have just conspired, with spectacular success, to effectively close the case against Konrad Mizzi once and for all. For let's be blunt about at least one thing. It is useless to go on stamping one's feet and shouting oneself hoarse in pursuit of Konrad Mizzi's resignation – still less the resignation of the entire government, as Busuttil has been demanding for months now – when Parliament has just given Mizzi an unambiguous green light to stay on as a member of Cabinet: not once, but twice. To do so would be to publicly reject the verdict delivered by what is supposed to be the highest institution in the land. That is not an impression any politician can afford to impart… still less, the Opposition leader who so unwisely insisted on those doomed votes being taken from the start. The bottom line, then, is that we are now lumped with Mizzi for the rest of this government's term… whether we like it or not, and thanks in no uncertain terms to the Opposition benches. And this can only raise multiple questions about a political party system that has now not only clearly failed… but is actually falling apart at the seams. Joseph Muscat now has multiple reasons to limit his response to Panamagate to the ridiculous game of musical chairs we all witnessed last week. At a stretch, he could even have chosen to interpret the twin victories in parliament as a wholesale endorsement of his government's programme. On paper, he would be right to reason this way: after all, it was the Opposition's choice to extend the debate to the government's performance as a whole, rather than limiting it to Panamagate itself. Effectively, then, Busuttil shifted the theatre of political warfare from a terrain where his own troops were strong, onto one which suited Muscat's military strategy better. And I am sorry to have to spell it out, but this is the moment when level-headed people – especially Nationalists – should start seriously questioning whether the PN picked the right candidate to succeed Lawrence Gonzi in 2013. It is an important question to ask right now, too. Given Muscat's woefully unsatisfactory response in both debates, now is the time when what is needed more than ever is a strategically effective Opposition. And there were plenty of historical pointers as to how an opposition can indeed act effectively under similar circumstances. Consider, for a moment, how the previous Opposition had behaved when the shoe was on the other foot. For three whole years, Joseph Muscat resisted the temptation to table a vote of confidence in the ailing Gonzi administration… even though, by that time, it was hanging onto power by a single thread named 'Franco Debono'. (Note: the 2011 vote on Austin Gatt was turned into a confidence vote in government by Gonzi himself, specifically to avoid losing.) Why? Well, I would imagine it's because Muscat knew perfectly well that he might have won a vote against Gatt (Mr Unpopular, at the time... he stood no chance at all of winning a vote against the government as a whole. Franco Debono may have been a maverick… but he was also fully aware that by bringing his own government down, he would be pressing the 'self-destruct' button on his own career. So the Labour opposition tabled a vote of confidence against Richard Cachia Caruana instead… this time, snug in the knowledge that it would easily win, because it had made damn sure to secure the collaboration of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando beforehand. Full Colour Version C: M: Y: K: 0 0 0 100 C: M: Y: K: 0 100 100 0 C: M: Y: K: 50 100 100 20 TUNA AQUAMED MFF Ltd. - Hangar, Triq it-Trunciera, Marsaxlokk MXK1522 T: 2247 5000 E: Farmed in Maltese offshore waters and delivered to you with special attention to freshness and to the highest standards. LOOK FOR OUR QUALITY MARK IN YOUR SUPERMARKET, FISHMONGER OR RESTAURANT FOR A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE. EAT FRESH EAT HEALTHY ENJOY OUR SEA BREAM Raphael Vassallo

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