The PN has had a long and interesting history. In post war years it had to live down its pro-fascist past and, luckily for it, The Times and Il-Berqa of the fifties found a new adversary in a belligerent Mintoff and from being arch antagonists of the party moulded by Mizzi, became its most important propagandists. The Borg Olivier years, despite the acquisition of independence, were marked with a policy of doing as little as possible and following the defeat of 1971, the party had little choice but to remove Borg Olivier. The new incumbent, Eddie Fenech Adami, was relatively unknown but from day one he stuck to basic principles and redefined the PN on the basis of these principles, irrespective of what had happened before. Among the most important of theses principles, Fenech Adami upheld the rule of law. He himself and his family were victims of the breakdown of the rule of law and his steadfastness and principled reaction earned him the respect of the electorate. To a significant extent, the electorate continued to believe that the PN was the best guarantor that the rule of law would be upheld and continued to doubt that Labour – despite the policy and strategy reform efforts by Alfred Sant – could be trusted to uphold this most basic of principles of civil society.
It was therefore surprising the hear Dr Gonzi, the leader of the PN and its personification in the last elections and not some lesser minion wishing to impress, state that even if the courts decided that the VAT on vehicle registration tax was to be refunded, the PL’s imitative is merely a vote catching exercise as the country would gain nothing – by implication the country would lose and the tax payer at large would have to make good for the refund. Unlike Eddie Fenech Adami, Dr Gonzi seems to be saying he does not care about the legality of Government’s actions but is only concerned with the benefit to the country. This is the basic policy of totalitarian states and even the current PN Government does not merit this attribution. Dr Gonzi seems to have forgotten that the electorate has voted for a system where the legal rights of the individual supersede those of the collective. During the Mintoff years, many were disgruntled at the reply refusal to parliamentary questions because such replies were “not in the public interest”. Recently Minister of Finance Tonio Fenech told this newspaper that he would refuse to answer PQs about state support to ailing industries because this was against the national interest. Few can doubt that Mintoff’s slogan of “Malta l-ewwel u qabel kollox” was genuine and heartfelt. Only, the electorate, after experiencing this style of management, did not want it despite the social services, the huge accumulated reserves, the investment by huge companies, the banks, Air Malta, etc. For all the good that came from this policy, the people refused to accept practices many considered objectionable. This is why the PN has been in power for so long. GonziPN does not seem to appreciate this point and does not realise that its strength lies exclusively in the perception the electorate has of the party in power relative to that the electorate holds of the opposition. This point of view is reinforced by apparent tolerance of the arrogance of certain members of Government, the open dissent of some back benchers and the defence by PN apologists against these dissenters who certainly have a duty to the party but have a more compelling duty to those who voted for them. Other examples of paternalism – stupid and fine generating speed limits, archaic theatre censorship, doubtful MEPA decisions, etc – add to the perception that this administration considers the opinion of Joe Public as irrelevant.
A Government that places the good of the country above its popularity is not only heroic but will be appreciated by the majority of floating voters – by definition the more intelligent sector of the public. However a Government that places its style of management above the law and in conflict with the opinions of the general public is suicidal. The problem is not so much that the PN will not be re-elected. The issue is that during this difficult period of global recession, a Government that does not care about legalities and pubic feelings is the most undesirable administration that our little country could have. It may be that GonziPN has decided that whatever they do, their chances of re-election are next to nothing. It may be that, given the difficulties they are facing because of international and local problems, they do not care if they are re-elected or not. They may also feel that the electorate is largely a bunch of morons who despite their incessant grumbling will still be loyal to them on election day. Some may argue that Government has no choice. If this were true then it would be an admission of incompetence.
It may come as a surprise to our politicians, but this country has matured greatly since Independence. Apart from those – a minority – who stand to gain favours because of their friendship, relationship or other hold over those who may wield power, the vast majority does not care very much about who is in power. This more mature electorate has learnt not to put too much weight on pre-electoral promises, family partisan loyalties or partisan hot air. What most people care about is the validity, effectiveness and sensitivity of policy and its implementation. The essence of democracy is not that we elect a dictatorship for five years but that during those years the justified expectations of the public are realised. In these difficult times Malta cannot afford a Government that is at loggerheads with various sectors of the public. For a Government that excuses its actions because it claims to be acting for the good of the country, it is in the paramount national interest that policy and its implementation not only makes sense and is feasible but is also sensitive to public feelings.