The maladies of our country originate from its same citizens.

Understanding politics

For long centuries, Maltese citizens have been looking through a glass darkly, only to at long last be led to realise that this present government is nothing but a reflection of themselves. In a democracy, the government cannot be judged guilty for administering the country in compliance with the ‘will’ of the citizens. Or so one can interpret the narrative of the defenders of the party in government.

Politicians are reluctant to discuss politics and political science in the open. Political parties and the professional media, being the two mediating institutions in a democracy, would routinely stick to day to day “happenings” revolving on scandals and misgovernment; but scant understanding and explaining to us ordinary citizens what led to the current situation.

Even if politics is primarily the domain of citizens whose role is to elect representatives fit to deliver what is best for the country. Even if parties have within their fold institutes and academia entrusted with educating the people.

Whether or not a person has an interest in politics, politics has an interest in them. When one develops a good understanding of politics one is a better-prepared citizen. One better understands questions of who gets what, how and most importantly why.

When discussing the “search for truth” Harold Pinter in his Nobel prize speech in 2005 claimed that “the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.”

What is Populism?

Political actors in Malta rarely mention the term Populism.

We speak of a dysfunctional democracy, of nuanced autocratic traits in the government’s management of things, be these political, social, or economic. We speak of a government that is veering towards illegitimacy. We deplore the polarisation among citizens that in populism is understood as “us and them” meaning the “real people” who voted the party in government while the rest are considered as irrelevant and called the “enemy of the people”. This leads to the avoidance of the need to dialogue, to discard the need for transparency, and to screen breaches in enforcement of the rule of law by allied government elites and political actors through impunity.

Fingers are pointed at individuals in high public office and institutions (most often persons of trust) who blindly assist the government in taking over the apparatus of the state. We deplore the government’s arrogance claiming that only the party in government has the exclusive representation of the people.

Political scholars claim that we do not have a theory of populism. It can be categorised as an anti-elitist, anti-establishment, and anti-pluralistic movement of people who are angry, voters frustrated and suffer resentment.

Jan Werner Müller (2016) claims that populist governance exhibits three features: attempts to hijack the state apparatus, corruption and “mass clientelism”, and efforts to systematically suppress civil society. This would extend to the media.

In brief, Malta’s 2013 neoliberalism, that dramatically increased economic and social inequalities, put to rest the foundational importance of equal individual rights, law, and freedom of classical liberalism. The constant occurrences of scandals as evidenced by the courts and the media led the government’s political action to the notion of quasi populist sovereignty as a defensive plan of action.

The will of the people

Of late we are reading epistles by Labour tagged academics who, while admitting that the country is indeed a mess, insist this is a government whose political action complements the character, thinking, way of living and aspirations of the people.

These academics contend that scandals, despite their ugliness, won’t bring Labour down. We are described as citizens who for centuries lived in the ghetto of whoever is in power; citizens who believe that peace, freedom, respect, and security is won through individualism, deceit and corrupt practices camouflaged in impunity and who compromise according to the philosophy of making do.

What these political writers might have got right is that a person is not born a citizen; a person becomes one through learning, self-discipline, and respecting others’ opinions.

We are informed that Maltese, like their counterparts in a European context, have always been governed by mediocre statesmen whose mission was and still is to retain or gain power by constantly accommodating this kind of deceitful, gullible, and corrupt citizenship.

These admissible characterisations and idiosyncrasies of a ‘people’, that populists interpret as an idea of the single, homogeneous, authentic people – that in and of itself is a dangerous fantasy in a democracy – have moulded Maltese politicians into mediocrity while exercising power according to the “will of the people”.

The maladies of Maltese, and historically all Europeans, who lived in subjugation of colonisation and religion and who were the victims of political ideologies stretched to extremes, are what led to the misdeeds of governments that include all sorts of corruption, fraud, and forgetfulness of the rule of law. These Europeans were thus the cause that paved the way towards today’s illiberal democracies, right wing sovereignism and left-wing populist oligarchic regimes.

In consequence to such almost statutory narrative by defenders of the Labour government, one cannot but interpret this as degrading European politicians, particularly post World War II, the founders of today’s European Union, and people like Mizzi, Boffa, Mintoff, Borg Olivier and Fenech Adami, as mediocre and unfit to lead a country.

Such is the novel narrative of the Labour party in government. A reminiscence of the 2013 mantra “Malta tagħna lkoll” and the recurring emphasis that people trust Labour because it delivers in accordance with people’s thinking and objectives, and because Labour always end up with the best solutions.

Through years this government has stretched Populism’s fallacious claim that it alone has the sole representation of the people to its extremes.

If indeed this is a real crisis (alias denoting a moment of stark choice or judgement), the Partit Nazzjonalista would do well to resort to Machiavelli’s advice that a crisis requires nothing less than a “return to first principles”.

What Democracy Rules have been breached?