Saturday 16 February 2019

Let the sleaze campaign begin

Remember five years ago in the last few days of the 2008 election campaign how a number of ‘scandals’ suddenly started hitting the news at once? In particular there was the one about AD’s Harry Vassallo who was summoned by the police for not filing certain VAT returns. The timing was not a coincidence; it was a mere two days before the election. In case you have forgotten, I happened to come across this pretty accurate description in an unsigned article on the website

“The generally civil and decent five-week electoral campaign reached its lowest point when the leader of Alternattiva Demokratika, Harry Vassallo, received a five-month old order related to VAT returns just two days before the end of the electoral campaign. As in previous elections, the Christian Democrats were warning their sympathisers that a vote for the respected Greens would mean a vote for their arch enemies, the dreaded Labour Party. The Conservatives’ top officials and much of the so-called independent media, including many self-proclaimed independent analysts, went into overdrive to dissuade people to give AD any type of support. 

Although it appeared right away that the strategists had bungled the whole thing when a TV crew from the Nationalist Party’s media empire questioned Harry Vassallo about the VAT returns hours before he actually received the notification from the Police, this sleazy and undemocratic move, as the Leader of the Opposition called it, must have had the desired effect of denting at least some people’s faith in AD and its leader. Lawrence Gonzi made no effort to dissociate himself from the sleaze campaign led by the Nationalist Party media, and in his last debate with Alfred Sant on national television, just hours before the end of the campaign, he echoed the accusation, without claiming ownership for it, that Harry Vassallo had kept for himself money that he had received from people who had paid their VAT through him. This claim had already been convincingly refuted the day before by Harry Vassallo and AD, and Alfred Sant, twice during the same TV debate, chided the Prime Minister for making the accusation.”

I am bringing this up because after AD’s very positive performance at the University debate yesterday where Michael Briguglio was given a warm reception by students, I wouldn’t be surprised to suddenly see a breaking story which somehow smears someone from the Green party.  Inevitably, as soon as AD starts making real inroads into a certain sector of the population, it goes from being completely ignored, dismissed and ridiculed, to becoming Public Enemy Number One.

The strategy is so well-known that it has now almost become a cliché.  There is even a name for it; it’s called a “terrenata”. The name comes from an infamous incident as recounted by James Debono in a well-researched article dated 9 March 2008 carried on Malta Today .

“Back in the late 1920s an inconsequential waiter and drunkard by the name of Terrinu Bono was used by the PN to invent the story that Lord Gerald Strickland had been seen wearing the garb of a Freemason. It was one way of trying to shaft Strickland.”

Every since then, with every election, we wait with bated breath for the campaign’s terrenata, a last minute revelation (not necessarily based on truth) which is intended to influence and sway the electorate.

We are already seeing plenty of leaked secret recordings and emails which have been sitting in someone’s drawer waiting to be released at the opportune time, and there have already been hints of more explosive stories to come.

Voters will have to be discerning indeed in order to be able to sift through what can be truly considered a damaging scandal which reflects negatively on the party in question, and what is merely this year’s “terrenata”.


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