This article first appeared in Malta Today
I guess I was being naive (again) in thinking that a horrific tragedy could ever unite this country.
Really, what was I thinking?
First of all, the minute you mention ‘unity’ there are those who deliberately misconstrue what you say and take it to mean that you are saying we should not criticise the Government and act as if everything is hunky dory, when it clearly isn’t. Of course we need to criticise the Government, anytime and always, whenever necessary. Governments are there to be held accountable, even when they win by a landslide (and, in fact, I would argue, they need to be held even more accountable when they enjoy such a huge majority to ensure they are kept on their toes and do not slide into ‘we can get away with anything’ mode.)
So a call for unity does not translate into standing behind the Government even when it fails us, and even when it is wrong. Far from it. It is a call for US to unite, irrespective of political beliefs, calling a spade and spade without any ulterior motives, but simply to live in a better, more decent country. (Put like that, it sounds so simple, but we all know that we should be so lucky for it to be so easy.)
Are we really so unable to separate ourselves from the party we support? Do we have to perpetually wear our political identity always and everywhere like a comforting cloak which we hold onto for dear life, in the same way that a toddler refuses to relinquish her security blanket? I’m afraid, judging by what has unfolded since Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, the answers to those two questions are yes, and yes.
On the other hand, those who want to cynically misrepresent what is meant by unity are really just making things worse, obfuscating the issues and creating more ill feelings than there already are.
In fact, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that deep down, many don’t really want to put a stop to the hateful partisan politics which divide us. They are, I am convinced, addicted to the ‘high’ of arguing, of the tit-for-tat bickering, of the what-about-your-party-isms, and the why-are-just-speaking-up now logical fallacy. Take away their tribal politics and it is like you are taking away their very soul; the very essence of what defines them. But even more than that, it would be like depriving an alcoholic of his drink, a drug addict of his heroin and forcing a shopaholic to cut all his credit cards in half. The withdrawal symptoms are real – you can feel people chomping at the bit when there is no partisan issue to argue over, so instead they can spend literally days arguing over something as (comparatively) inconsequential as Benna’s plastic caps.
I’ve also often noticed that it’s very difficult for (some) people to accept that it is perfectly possible to hold two divergent views in one’s head at the same time. For example, I think we can all agree that the Police Commissioner’s press conference was an unmitigated public relations disaster. I watched, with a mixture of horror and sympathy as he crashed and burned, completely out of his depth, unable to answer the questions, unable to handle the pressure and to top it all of, unable to express himself properly in English to the foreign press. It was like something out of the film Police Academy, where a bumbling police force is always getting it wrong. Except there was nothing remotely amusing about it, considering the circumstances of the murder case at hand.
I believe that press conference should never have taken place if the Police Commissioner had no new information to give to the press and that, instead, a clear press statement to this effect and outlining what course the investigations were taking, should have been issued immediately. I realise there was huge public and media pressure for him to face the public, but at such an early stage of the investigation, what was there to say? When I think back on other murders which have taken place, I cannot remember a murder ever being solved in three days flat unless it was a personal dispute where the culprit was obvious. On the other hand, does the fact that someone handled a press conference so badly and is unable to communicate properly in English mean that he is utterly incompetent? The general consensus is yes (except for those who see this as a direct attack on the Government who appointed hm, who would tell you ‘no’). Confidence in Lawrence Cutajar was already at rock bottom, so being faced with the country’s most high-profile murder in history is probably his worst nightmare. There is a segment of the country which is calling for him to resign or to be removed and Muscat needs to seriously take heed of this sentiment. But this brings us to the inevitable next question: will whoever replaces him be accepted by Muscat’s critics and the Opposition? Unless we make the constitutional changes required for the Police Commissioner to be chosen by a 2/3 Parliamentary majority we are going to be back to square one.
This is the same question I keep asking myself every time I read that Muscat should resign. OK, let us say he resigns, who in the Labour party will take his place and will he or she be palatable to those who are fiercely opposed to the Labour party to begin with? If the calls for Muscat’s head on a plate really mean that what the Opposition and PN supporters want is for the Government to collapse and for fresh elections to be held instead, which alternative PM is waiting in the wings? Adrian Delia, a man who is facing a revolt within this own party by dissenting MPs? Will it be Simon Busuttil who seems to have reappeared on centre stage despite having resigned his post? Or is there someone else within the PN, biding his time, waiting to step into the void if Delia is forced out? And if Delia is forced out, how will this be received by those who, after all, democratically elected him? At a time when the nation has been rocked by this brutal murder and its disturbing implications, we need stability and not yet another political upheaval in a year in which we have already been though two crucial elections.
Discussing these issues with a clear head is what is required in this country, which is why more and more I am turning away from the mounting hysteria on social media and preferring to talk to people face to face who are capable of, as we say in Maltese, ‘jirraġunaw’ (argue rationally). Anything else, to me, is sounding more and more like white noise.