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MT 8 May 2016

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25 maltatoday, SUNDAY, 8 MAY 2016 Opinion Meanwhile, if you're not happy with my example – because it paints Muscat as a better Opposition leader than Busuttil – well, how about Eddie Fenech Adami? I clearly remember the parliamentary debate leading to the downfall of Alfred Sant's administration in the long, hot summer of '98. Fenech Adami took full advantage of the situation: fêting and toasting his erstwhile archenemy Dom Mintoff; inviting him onto Nationalist media; surrendering his own Parliamentary debate time so that Mintoff could talk for longer… and longer… and longer… (In fact, I seem to remember one speech that lasted three whole days…) But did Fenech Adami ever table a vote of confidence in Sant's administration? No. He was far too clever for that. He knew perfectly well that, whatever feelings Mintoff may have harboured for Sant at the time… he would never, ever, EVER vote against a Labour government at the instigation of the Nationalists. So instead, Fenech Adami bided his time (not for very long, as it turned out) in the hope that Sant would make the mistake of calling for Parliament's confidence himself. That way, Mintoff could freely bring himself to scuttle his own government… without being seen to have taken his orders directly from Eddie Fenech Adami. Now let's see how all this compares with last week's vote of confidence in Muscat's government. Did Busuttil secure the support of dissenting backbenchers before tabling the motion… as Muscat had done with Pullicino Orlando. Evidently not. Bizarrely, he somehow expected today's government MPs to do what not even Mintoff or Franco Debono would willingly do, and collectively vote to abruptly terminate their own careers. Honestly, even a small child could have told him that this would never, ever happen in practice… and that, by inevitably losing both votes, Busuttil and Farrugia would also have unwittingly legitimised the Muscat administration in spite of its failings. And this forces us to confront an ugly irony. If the political system wasn't as blatantly rotten as we all know it to be… at least Farrugia's vote might have been won. It was painfully obvious that several Labour MPs were deeply uncomfortable defending Mizzi. Theoretically it was possible (though exceedingly unlikely) to pull off a repeat of the Cachia Caruana experience. This because even diehard Labour supporters can see that something is amiss here. In most other European democracies, Konrad Mizzi would have been summarily fired by his prime minister… long before any 'vote of confidence' could be given the chance to annul the effects of his actions. In Malta, by way of contrast, these two failed Opposition initiatives have reconfirmed what can only be described as a dangerously immature political establishment, on two fronts. On the one hand, we have a government that resists doing the honourable thing when caught with its pants down… snug in the knowledge that it can always rely on Malta's primitive culture of partisan pique (coupled with its own unassailable Parliamentary majority) to withstand any challenge. And on the other? An Opposition which literally hands Muscat, on a silver platter, all the official excuses he needs to justify his cabinet reshuffle… and even to put a parliamentary lid on the Konrad Mizzi affair once and for all. And to make matters infinitely worse, it is also an Opposition which foolishly believes that raising the political tempo in this country is somehow doing itself a favour… when there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary. The results of Busuttil's soapbox populism and relentless partisan tirades were proudly put on display at the May Day rally in Valletta last week. You all saw the T-shirts: 'Laburist sal-mewt'... 'Joseph Muscat forever'…. you know, just the sort of confidence boost a beleaguered prime minister needs, at a time when he is facing inner dissent within his own party. The only discernible effect of all this endless partisan nonsense spouted by the Opposition all this time is to take a Labour support-base that had been genuinely dismayed by Mizzi's indiscretion – and which may, in pockets, have truly questioned its own continued support for that party – and instantly undo all the doubt and disappointment in one fell swoop. Sensing that their 'team' was under threat, the Labour faithful responded to the ancestral summons of party allegiance as they have always done in the past… by closing ranks about their beloved leader, and bursting into a chorus of 'Ma Taghmlu Xejn'. In a sense, I feel sorry for the people who attended Saturday's protest (I'm writing this on Friday) on the basis of what it actually is: a statement that Muscat's actions do not go far enough. They're the ones who genuinely want to see improvement in the state of governance in Malta; and improvement is precisely the one thing they will never get, from a two-party system that offers nothing but a choice of mediocrity all round. 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 I feel sorry for the people who attended Saturday's protest… They're the ones who genuinely want to see improvement in the state of governance in Malta Even diehard Labour supporters can see that something is amiss here. In most other European democracies, Konrad Mizzi would have been summarily fired by his prime minister

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