The problems of this country today are not confined to criminal-scandals perpetuated by the government and by an assortment of citizens now in survival mode.
The diagnosis of prevailing maladies identifies a dysfunctional economy that passed its expiry date, a conglomerate of ill prepared and uninspiring politicians, the thorough erosion of all state apparatus; finally, a disillusioned polis coerced to live a lie, submissive, and veering towards anti-politics movements.
This kind of localised ‘end of politics’ presumption, where justice, individual rights, freedom, and respect are put to rest, reminds one of Ronald Barthes’ interpretation that “the rule has been suspended”.
It is without doubt that recounting the story of Malta’s democracy over the past decades, there would emerge in an unequivocal way the difference between what was politics then and what contemporary politics is.
Hence, we need to return to the first principles of politics and to understanding what democratic rules effectively are. To the public eye this proposal apparently is not on the agenda of parties, professionals, academics, the media, and specific-interest groups. At best it is discussed internally, but not deemed of relevance to the ordinary citizen. Yet, citizens, even if secretively, are now asking why.
Indeed, like in other states, citizens’ indifference, mistrust in parties and politicians and the current resulting traits of individualism, clientelism and nuanced corruption have led to a drift towards populism, anti-politics, and apathy.
Over the last years, adopting a balancing act, painfully juggling between proactive and reactive modes with a view to retain power, it takes what it takes, the government ended up stretching its neoliberal and today’s populist thinking to extremes. Labour’s claim that it does not believe in long term solutions led to ad hoc, short-term, and impulsive solutions be it the economy, citizens’ well-being or law enforcement.
With hindsight, one concludes that the objective of the professed ‘liberal movement’ prior to Labour gaining power was to gradually diffuse a sense of perpetual resignation and helplessness among citizens. This resulting in anti-politics and anti-institutional chaos, what I coined as ‘populist sovereignty’ contrasting the democratic notion of ‘popular autonomy’.
Such predetermined or resultant scenario impacted not only citizens but most importantly the same ‘critical infrastructure’ of democracy being political parties and professional press including public broadcasting.
This democratic and political deficit has led opposition parties, independent media, and several social groups to play ball with this same autocratic government. The critique is solely focussed on government misdeeds and society’s day-to-day socio-economic issues. Such approach cannot be considered as the priority in exploring pragmatic solutions to the present state of affairs.
This current political scenario characterised by the break-in of autocratic populism has upset the traditional foundation of our political action and of the democratic dialectic itself.
Politics can again come to life only if, even gradually, the proposed constituent elements could see the light of day.
First and foremost, it is necessary to have an authoritative and qualified leadership able to interpret and break down the politics of this contemporary period. If the current trends of populism, that is improvisation, randomness and carelessness were to continue prevailing, politics would be relegated to a marginal and peripheral role when it comes to concrete choices relating to the country’s development and future.
There is a need for a leadership that is authoritative, representative, and rooted in our society. This requires politicians who are not just well prepared professionally, academically, and conversant with the people’s thinking, living modes, exigences and aspirations, but persons who have also been educated in politics, who have matured in their voluntary mission following the example (mutatis mutandis) of established politicians. Since 2013 this vacuum has been institutionalised and parties have transformed themselves into vote-catching committees.
Politics can again become a protagonist of Maltese society if, it in the meantime becomes disciplined and represented by those democratic instruments called “parties”, authentically democratic, that even internally afford factions for diverse ideas, that are popular and are an expression of social and cultural interests. Consequently, we need to do away with “personalised parties” or monolithic leadership parties that do or undo politics according to their whim.
We need parties, instead, that know how to convey popular consent, and above all, that are capable of indicating that societal vision or project: characteristics that today have disappeared from the political horizon.
Political culture is still considered central in today’s social diversities. Political cultures, reformist and constitutional, that have been swept away by the valueless intrusion of populism and quasi autocracy traits that have razed to the ground all that we inherited from our predecessors. Cultural instruments that help us identify which resulting political programme, even in today’s fusion of presumed ideologies, addresses the current governance paradox based on political and parliamentary opportunism.
It is a breadth of fresh air that at long last the Partit Nazzzjonalista is apparently exploring such avenues that a few politicians, professionals and academics have been stimulating in silence.
Political parties shall not just strive to gain or retain power. Their mission is to instil in citizens the notion that as Christian liberal democrats “we belong together”.
With a government that is no longer in control on a political level and in socio-economic sectors, we cannot justify any longer the political vacuum that was its winning instrument, a party that has coerced public officials and others to blatantly disregard the law and who tomorrow may face prosecution in courts, with an economic plan that could dry up, and for many other reasons, citizens will be looking for an alternative that no civil society can offer, but only another political party can.
The Partit Nazzjonalista can only fill this vacuum if it persuades citizens that indeed on these islands “once upon a time there was politics”.