Muscat’s discordant tape

Photo: Jonathan Borg

Photo: Jonathan Borg

The Shawshank Redemption was voted as the best movie of all time by IMDB users. When released it flopped at the box office generating just enough revenue to offset the cost of production. Critical acclaim and commercial success don’t go hand in hand. Does commercial failure make The Shawshank Redemption a bad film? Definitely not.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding made over $360 million - a huge commercial success having cost only $5 million. But was it a good film? It was described by critics as colourless and insubstantial.

At the general election the Nationalist Party won critical acclaim, from the independent media and other institutions, but was a ‘commercial’ flop.  The Labour Party was a huge ‘commercial’ success despite its poor reviews. What matters in a democracy is not critical acclaim but commercial success. For that success marketing is key and the PL has perfected its marketing - it certainly knows its customer and how the customer can be swayed.

Joseph Muscat celebrated his huge triumph with a speech that started with the epic statement: “Malta has chosen love over hate.”

He continued: “Malta has discarded arrogance and divisiveness and has chosen unity.” He ended his address with a call for unity encouraging supporters to extend the hand of friendship to those on the “other side” of the political divide - those who had generated the hate, the arrogance and the divisiveness?

Chris Cardona, who haemorrhaged votes despite being the deputy leader, provided the taster for Muscat: “We aren’t only celebrating the victory of the Labour Party over the Nationalist Party, but the victory of success against mediocrity, normality over fear, of love against envy and prejudice, of humility against arrogance and superiority.”

How magnanimous in victory. Maybe the deputy leader had not been briefed in time about the new ‘love’ policy and had still carried his axe to the party’s party.

Muscat claimed that “our biggest mistake was allowing others to sow doubts in people’s minds”. Again referring to those “others”?

Everybody would agree with the Prime Minister’s words that unity is vital for our small nation. But words alone don’t foster unity

What does allowing others to sow doubts mean? That he did not manage to control the independent media completely, that the Opposition was given too much airtime on national TV, that he did not go as far as Turkey did?

If the Prime Minister feels this was “our” biggest mistake, what would correcting this mistake entail? Doubling efforts to silence the media, intimidate the opposition and eliminate protest?

We have seen reports of the efforts of the Prime Minister, Keith Schembri and Owen Bonnici to collude with Henley and Partners to threaten the press as well as an opposition MPs by instituting financially ruinous procedures.

We have seen the chilling effect of the avalanche of libel cases and even garnishee orders against journalists. We have witnessed the threatening and intimidating replies to questions from the media.

We are still to learn more details of the sordid relations between Muscat’s chief of staff and Adrian Hillman. The former RTK journalist Sabrina Agius, who was the mole leaking information to Muscat only to be put on the public payroll after his ascent to power, had advised him in her email of April 21, 2011: “On One News instead of personal attacks, I would focus on arguments.”

Unfortunately her advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Glenn Bedingfield, Muscat’s appointee in Castille has continuously targeted anybody perceived as opposing the government with the blessing of the Prime Minister. What will happen to Muscat’s mouthpiece? Will he be elected to parliament and if so will Muscat replace him with another official to continue with the systematic targeting of opponents while paid by the State?

Or will Bedingfield continue with his campaign from his seat in parliament? Why would somebody who preaches unity employ somebody in his office who personifies divisiveness?

Muscat had an ideal opportunity to show that his words of love and unity are genuine. That opportunity came when he chose his Cabinet and chief of staff.

Konrad Mizzi’s company in Panama and his trust in New Zealand are facts. Keith Schembri’s Panama company is also a fact. His suspicious transactions with Hillman and Brian Tonna are being investigated. They are facts too.

Members of the Labour Party, Alfred Sant, Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo have all made their views clear that Konrad Mizzi should have resigned. But unfortunately our Prime Minister has passed over this opportunity to convince many including some in his own party that he really means what he says - and has reappointed Mizzi and Schembri.

Muscat was asked about his relationship with Simon Busuttil.  He answered: “I tried to build a relationship… I can forgive but not forget.  I cannot build a relationship with him… If I win, I hope for the good of the country that Simon Busuttil resigns.” Only a few days later Muscat admitted he was wrong. Which one is the true Joseph Muscat?

Everybody would agree with the Prime Minister’s words that unity is vital for our small nation. But words alone don’t foster unity.  How can a Prime Minister be trusted to bring unity when he employs a right-hand man to target opponents, disregards the clear message of a significant proportion of the population (43 per cent at least) and members of his own party by reappointing divisive figures in his Cabinet and as chief of staff, makes up last-minute claims about the leader of the Opposition as he did on Xarabank, allows politically motivated transfers within hours of his re-election, tolerates blatant intimidation of the FIAU by one of his senior ministers?

Saying one thing and doing the opposite won’t work. Muscat’s discordant tape does nothing to foster tolerance and unity.

Kevin Cassar is a consultant vascular surgeon, associate professor of surgery and was a PN election candidate.

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