Sunday 17 February 2019

Divide and rule

Let’s say, in these last four weeks, there is a major turnaround and the PN starts recovering all its lost votes.

Let’s say it manages to win the election once again by a whisker.

Let’s say this happens – how will the politicians who have repeatedly insulted Labour supporters with their absurd and offensive throwaway remarks imagine they are going to backpedal fast enough to suddenly start speaking in national terms rather than partisan ones?

It started with the PM himself who blurted out during the first PN mass meeting that “With Labour you are embarrassed, with the Nationalists you are proud” (that was the translation given by the Times of Malta. The actual phrase in Maltese as reported by was “mal-Labour tistħi man-Nazzjonalisti tiftaħar”.)  Now he may have been carried away by the euphoria of the occasion, but looking back at these words, I think he’s the one who should be embarrassed.  How can you tell people that if they vote for a party other than yours, it is something to be ashamed of?  Is this some kind of new way to win over voters, by trying to browbeat them into voting for you out of fear of being ridiculed, rather than because you have persauded them with intelligent debate?

With a national voting pattern which splits the country practically down the middle, if he walks up the steps of Castille once again after 10 March, Lawrence Gonzi is going to have to acknowledge that those divisive words have done a lot of damage to his role as a premier. No wonder people have such a hard time thinking of him in terms of “my” Prime Minister.

During the heated rhetoric of this excruciatingly long campaign, as he has struggled to drum up support from his own grassroots, Gonzi often seems to forget that the same viewers are watching him as he dons different hats. One minute he is the aggressive and militant leader of the Nationalist Party under some tent where he is surrounded by lackadaisical clapping, and the next he is all charm and smiles as he tours a factory here and opens up a new (miraculously-finished-just-in-time-for-the-election) project there.  Will the real Lawrence Gonzi please stand up?

This strategy of offending anyone who is not a Nationalist supporter really baffles me, and I cannot understand what they hope to gain by it.

Simon Busuttil, who seems to be competing with PBO for the number of gaffes he can make between now and voting day, put his foot in it again during a recent debate when he turned to Deborah Schembri and told her that she “looks like a Nationalist” (ghandek wicc ta’ Nazzjonalista). If he meant this as some kind of backhanded compliment to imply that she looks too “refined” to have crossed over to Labour, well with this absurd remark he managed to once again offend half the population with one fell stroke.  (It was reminiscent of Charles Mangion’s ill-fated remark in the 2008 campaign that Nationalists have “something wrong” in their DNA).

Apparently Simon has now apologized to Deborah, which is even worse, because he knows very well that the dig was not aimed at her.


Courtesy of Bis-Serjeta', bis-serjeta' biss

Courtesy of Bis-Serjeta’, Bis-serjeta’ Biss

I think since he stopped breathing the rarified atmosphere of the European Parliament, Simon has reverted back to what is probable his true nature:  provincial and narrow-minded with a good dose of social snobbery thrown in.  Discussing his remark the next day, many pointed out that he simply voiced what a lot of people actually think, i.e. that you can tell how a person votes by their appearance, in which Labour voters inevitably end up being branded as hamalli (low-class, uncouth) while PN voters are the puliti (high class, sophisticated.)

Yes, I know, there are people who do go around with this mental imagery in their heads, pigeonholing others according to these political stereotypes and pointblank snubbing anyone who does not fit in with their preconceived labels. They insist on assuming how people vote based on socio-economic indicators, educational background and even whether their first language is English or Maltese.

That probably explains why the long knives were out for Labour candidate Konrad Mizzi who, let’s face it, flies in the face of any stereotype. Apparently you are only allowed to code switch between English and Maltese if you are a Nationalist politician. I’m saying this because it seems to irk people considerably that Mizzi often slips into English. In the mind of those who think only in terms of black and white, Konrad Mizzi is an aberration; he has not followed Maltese society’s rules and he has thrown his lot in with the “wrong” side. How dare he?

The problem for those who go around with this mindset is that not everyone can be packaged into this straitjacket. I honestly don’t care who others vote for, and have never gone around branding friends and acquaintances as Nationalist, Labour or AD, but occasionally it happens that people of their own volition reveal to me how they vote. Let’s just say you would be surprised how often the stereotypes bite the dust. The political segregation along socio-economic lines, which some spin doctors would love to perpetuate as a truth is, in fact, becoming more of a myth. It might have been accurate three decades ago but it no longer holds water especially as people change their minds and cross party lines between one election and another.

As if Simon’s blunder was not enough, to round off the week, along came Paul Borg Olivier (PBO as we so affectionately call him) who took the insults one step further with this gem of a status:

Paul Borg Olivier Facebook status 1

There’s so much which is wrong in what he wrote that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that having just one more female candidate than Labour is no reason to make such a fuss.  Then there is the childish attempt to pit women against each other (“our candidates are better than yours nah, nah, na na, nah”).  But most of all is that the entire patronising tone of what he wrote is just so incredibly…what’s the word I’m looking for?

Oh, yes, pathetic.

“All women of substance compared to weak female Labour team”? Is that really how the PN hopes to win votes?  Trying to score points by badmouthing your political adversaries just seems to me that you have no real argument so you have to resort to schoolyard taunts. When taken together with all the other “us and them” comments (where “we” are always superior while “they” are always inferior in every way), it is all starting to sound a little too uncomfortably close to the kind of talk used by those who claim one ethnic race is superior to another.

But what do we know? We are mere voters, so please, keep the gaffes coming our way. Because at least they are keeping our skilled satirists very busy.



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