With Opposition partners like that...

Why does Partit Demokratiku think that tabling a ‘no-confidence motion in Konrad Mizzi’ was such a good idea? And why did they get so irate?

Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia (left)
Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia (left)

There are some things in life that I’ve just never understood. For instance: why do men have nipples? What makes people actually prefer Justin Bieber to real music? And why do babies cry when they’re tired (instead of just falling asleep: which would not only be a more biologically logical response to ‘tiredness’… but also remove the cause of complaint without any outside assistance whatsoever)?

So many questions, so little time. I will therefore limit myself to only one of life’s many curious mysteries… and only because it just happened to surface this particular week.

Why does Partit Demokratiku think that tabling a ‘no-confidence motion in Konrad Mizzi’ was such a good idea? And why did they get so irate, when Opposition leader Adrian Delia did what any seasoned political strategist would have done under those circumstances… and try to prevent it from ever reaching a vote?

What? No, they’re not ‘rhetorical questions’. I am genuinely perplexed. I even took the trouble of asking PD’s former chairman Anthony Buttigieg on his Facebook wall… and to date have not received a reply. That alone tells me it must be a difficult question to answer, even from the perspective of those who – unlike myself – do think it was a good idea. Such a good idea, in fact, that nobody in that party seems remotely capable of explaining the strategic thinking behind it…

And so, as with all life’s other mysteries, I tried working out the answer for myself. I started by looking at the general context: you know, the underlying political reality that is so glaringly visible to everyone in this country (except, it seems, for the people who are affected by it the most). In a nutshell, we have a very strong, compact and united government, comfortably buoyed by a seven-seat majority in the House… and on the other side of the semi-circle, we have a disjointed, fragmented and viscerally divided Opposition, led by someone who clearly doesn’t enjoy the ‘confidence’ (ahem) of a sizeable chunk of his own political ‘allies’.

Let’s stop there for a moment. Under those circumstances, would you consider it a ‘good idea’ to present the government with an opportunity to emerge even more compact and united… while further exposing the already conspicuous divisions on your own side of the House?

No, I wouldn’t have thought so either. Yet that is the only foreseeable outcome of a parliamentary debate on the basis of PD’s motion. Oh sure, some government MPs might have been forced into the uncomfortable position of having to ‘defend the indefensible’… and yes, it might look bad on their curriculum vitae, if they ever (for argument’s sake) get grilled before the European Parliament for some fancy EU position in future.

But please don’t tell me that experienced, veteran politicians like Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia seriously expected any of those MPs to actually vote against their own colleague in parliament… and therefore, indirectly, against a government they form part of themselves. That would be a preposterous expectation to have, even if there were any evidence of major misgivings on the part of certain Labour MPs… let alone when there is no such evidence at all; and when there are so many excuses a government MP could use to justify voting in favour of Konrad Mizzi at this present moment in time.

To be honest, we don’t even need a debate in the House to know what these excuses might be. I can rattle them all off by heart (and so can you, because it’s all you’ve been hearing from government these past three years). I reckon the most widespread would sound something like: ‘It’s not fair to pass judgment on someone when the facts have not been officially established by an ongoing inquiry’ (or words to that effect). Obviously, it would not placate a vociferous minority who call ‘bull’ on all those inquiries anyway… but it would certainly be enough to assuage any ‘troubled consciences’ on the government’s own backbench (which is what ultimately counts, seeing as they are the ones who will actually get to vote on the motion).

Many will no doubt also point towards the Auditor General’s recent report into the Electrogas contract… which found any number of dodgy discrepancies and shady coincidences, yes, but nothing that adds up to direct evidence against Konrad Mizzi himself. Mizzi has already cited that report as ‘proof’ of his innocence; and while that may sound laughable to your ears… well, those ears belong to you, not to government MPs who obviously have a very different perspective on (not to mention a vested political interest in) the matter. To their ears, at least, it will resonate as a perfectly plausible pretext to back their beleaguered colleague to the hilt, no matter what private misgivings they may personally have.

I imagine there will be other excuses too… and to get a rough idea of what shape they might take, we need only recall Godfrey Farrugia’s own excuse for voting against a no-confidence motion in the same Labour government – over the same general issue (i.e., Panama Papers) – back in 2013… when Farrugia was himself a government MP. (For yes, that’s another thing: Godfrey Farrugia seems to expect others to do today, what he himself chickened out of doing five years ago. Strange, but true. Actually, wait… scratch the ‘strange’ part. It’s just true: nothing strange about it at all.)

I imagine his contribution to that debate may well return to haunt him in future. But this is what Godfrey Farrugia actually said on that occasion: “Malta needs the Labour government because of the economic and social progress which it is bringing about…”

Roughly translated, Farrugia’s argument was that Joseph Muscat’s Labour government could legitimately be defended – even on charges of corruption and malfeasance – on the basis of the (real or perceived) ‘good’ it might be doing in other departments, unrelated to the issue under discussion.

That argument worked perfectly well for Godfrey Farrugia in 2016… so he, of all people, should expect it to work just as nicely for Labour MPs today. As indeed it should: after all, there are still as many reasons to subscribe to that view as there were five years ago.

Applied specifically to the ‘17 Black’ issue... Mizzi’s supporters (they do exist, you know) consistently point towards his successes in other areas unrelated to the energy sector: like Air Malta, for instance. So if Godfrey Farrugia felt that the ‘good’ Labour did in 2016 was enough to outweigh the ‘bad’ associated with one Cabinet minister… why shouldn’t Labour MPs use the same reasoning today, and argue that the ‘good’ Mizzi has done since should be enough to absolve him of any past misdemeanours?

Meanwhile, simmering beneath the surface there remains the same toxic sludge of partisan politics that made the same decision so hard for Godfrey Farrugia himself in 2016. Then as now, any government MP who votes against his own party can only expect to be crucified by the party grassroots at the next election. One could, of course, argue that such petty considerations should not prevent MPs of mettle from ‘doing the right thing’, regardless of the political consequences… but then again, Godfrey Farrugia is not exactly in any position to make that argument, now is he?

But in any case: by my count, that’s three very compelling reasons why PD’s no-confidence motion would almost certainly have been rejected by Malta’s House of Representatives: with ALL government MPs – no exceptions – voting against. Try as I might, I cannot see one possible outcome that would translate into even mild discomfort for the government party… still less brownie points for the Opposition.

And this is the part I truly don’t understand. Instead of thanking Adrian Delia for sparing them the humiliation of multiple political defeats across an entire spectrum of fronts… PD got angry with him for (temporarily) derailing the motion. Not to sound paranoid, or anything… but I’m beginning to suspect that PD may have some kind of interest in helping Joseph Muscat get through this difficult ’17 Black’ episode: not only offering him a national platform through which to consolidate his party’s political lead; but also providing him with all the ammunition he needs to quell any internal dissent he may indeed be facing over Konrad Mizzi.

Let’s try putting that another way. How do you think Muscat (or Mizzi himself, for that matter) would have reacted to a second, failed attempt to unseat a Labour cabinet minister by means of a parliamentary vote? My guess is that he would have seized on the unanimity of his seven-seat majority to hammer home the message that parliament had given Konrad Mizzi the thumbs up…. not once, but twice. Far from ‘unseating’ Konrad Mizzi – or even remotely inconveniencing him, for that matter – PD’s motion would only have ended up being a ‘Uomo Del Monte’ moment for Joseph Muscat. The House of Representatives would have said ‘Yes’ to Mizzi, and ‘no’ to the Opposition… and the Opposition (having so unwisely called for that vote to be taken itself) would have no option but to bow to the House’s verdict, and shut up on this issue… forever.

Why would an opposition party want to engineer that sort of outcome, anyway? Ooh, hang on… I think I’ve got it. Yes, yes, of course: why didn’t I think of it sooner? There is indeed one possible interpretation that might make sense of this otherwise nonsensical motion: and it involves understanding that the real intended target was not Konrad Mizzi at all… but Adrian Delia himself.

In which case… um… well, it only leaves us with yet another mystery to solve. Why would PD want to do that, anyway? Why would a junior Opposition party invest so much more time and energy in destabilizing its own Opposition partner… and not the government, which it is Constitutionally bound to oppose?

Hey, you can’t expect me to solve all life’s mysteries at once, you know. It’s high time others did some of the answering, too…

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