Zero-sum politics got us here – Ralph Cassar

Article published on the Maltatoday on Sunday 1 December 2019 before Joseph Muscat announced his long overdue resignation.

The situation in this country is a direct result of the two-party system. It is the result of years on years of either the PL or the PN closing one or both eyes to bribery, corruption and sleaze. Years on years of a system which allows five-year dictatorships led by an all-powerful Prime Minister. Years on years of that infamous phrase ‘dan il-Gvern tagħna u nagħmlu li rridu’ (we’re in government now, and we’ll do whatever we like). Now things have come to a head. The pigs at the trough chant ‘tagħna lkoll’ when in fact it is really ‘ tagħhom biss’.Those who stand in the way get ridiculed, ignored and now even assassinated. 

Politics has always been a zero-sum game in Malta. If you are not a vocal supporter of the Labour Party then you’re branded a Nationalist, and the other way round. The system is hardly ever questioned; the effective 16% threshold in each district in our electoral system is taken as a given by most. Little do they know that it is higher even than that in the not so democratic Turkey at 10%. All this suited the Nationalist and Labour Parties very well. It is quite easy to paint everything in black or white, it is also very easy to peddle myths and shoddy policies when all they have to do is spew the propaganda of ‘us versus them’. At the end of the day a system based on two is the bare minimum in a democracy. We live in a bare-minimum democracy. When both mess up, or even worse when Castille ends up being controlled by shady big business and criminals the weakness and uselessness of our system becomes glaringly obvious. 

It becomes obvious because instead of a clash of ideas politics has become an auction. Politically illiterate people are duped into thinking that it is either a vote for the bad or one for the very bad. Big business remains in control. The big boys need money for their propaganda, and that money comes from big business. Pacts are made not to rock the boat, and big business makes sure that PLPN do their bidding. Mention the state financing of parties, say through a small amount of money per vote obtained in elections and all hell breaks loose. People forget that the other option is our current situation where big business calls the shots and it seems, even orders assassinations. Weak institutions, an economy based on financial tricks and tax avoidance, together with people’s blind faith in a two party system has led to where we are today. Joseph Muscat has pressed the pedal on greed, using the usual excuses in the minimum democracy that is Malta, that the ‘others’ did worse or at most the same.

Let me concentrate on Joseph Muscat. He was seen as some type of saviour. In our ‘us versus them’ pseudo-democracy he was seen as the only option. The signs were there from the beginning. The meetings with the rich and powerful and who knows who else on the fourth floor of the Labour HQ in Hamrun were an omen of things to come. Keith Schembri’s involvement, together with that of Sandro Chetcuti, amongst others, meant that Labour had sold out to speculators even before they were in government. For let us remember: big business in Malta means property speculators and so called ‘developers’. What was already bad under the Nationalists, a case in point being the massive increase in building zones in 2006, was made worse under Muscat. He kept his promise of enriching the already rich. We can never really know whether the Labour Party also benefitted from, kickbacks. The party financing law allows a huge loophole: party companies are not within the scope of the law. A donation or adverts, real or fake, overpriced or not, on ONE are not counted as donations to the Labour Party. Same with the Nationalists obviously, with their 700,000 Euros fake ‘adverts’ on NET from db Group. 

Muscat promised to change the way politics is done. It is clear that he is one big fat liar. Half-hearted reforms came only after international pressure. He surrounded himself with cronies, and it seems, thugs from the criminal underworld. He kept the system of an all-powerful Prime Minister and made sure to abuse and squeeze every drop of power and control that comes with the position. The way forward is a reform of our Constitution. It should mean a reform of the electoral system, making it really and truly representative. It should mean smashing the clientelism it breeds. It means moving the fulcrum of power from the Prime Minister towards Parliament. It means having a system in which the Prime Minister is the servant of Parliament and not the other way round. Joseph Muscat, you have betrayed your voters, you have betrayed your people, and above all you have betrayed our country.

Ralph Cassar
Published in the MaltaToday – Sunday 1 December 2019