While most people seem to be busy enjoying this Carnival weekend, those who follow politics are busy trying to understand the reasons behind appointing Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as the next President.
At this point it is all pure speculation and guesswork, with a couple of conspiracy theories thrown in. I suppose we will know the answer soon enough because once she gives up her parliamentary seat and Ministry, it will lead to a series of other changes and the reasons behind Joseph Muscat’s strategy will fall into place. I can understand his reasons for a general reshuffle, as it is obvious that while some Ministers are delivering, others are not, and I would rather see a reshuffle after one year than having to put up with a mediocre performance for the rest of the legislature (to the detriment of the public) so that feelings are not hurt.
Which is precisely why I don’t understand his decision to remove someone who was obviously performing well.
In fact, I have found it extremely interesting (and rather surprising) to see how the formidable Minister for Social Policy is being praised across the board by voters from both sides of the political spectrum. This was backed up by a recent Malta Today survey which ranked her as the most popular minister who, over the last year, has proved her worth.
It is a classic example of how public perception shifts and changes when a politician rolls up his/her sleeves and just gets on with the job at hand. As a Minister Mrs Coleiro Preca got off to a rocky start, mostly because in people’s minds she was still linked to old Labour, Mintoff, the 80s and all the connotations that those words trigger off. The misgivings seemed to be justified when, within her first few months in office there were staff transfers within several departments falling under her remit. News reports also told of queues of constituents waiting outside her office “biex taqdihom” as the Maltese saying goes (in other words, for her to ‘serve’ them by ‘giving’ them what they felt they were entitled to in the way of social benefits or housing). To all outward appearances, the politics of patronage (which has never really gone away) seemed to be back in our face, in full view and with no attempts at camouflaging it or doing it with a quiet word and phone call, in the manner of previous administrations.
Somewhere along the way, however, the accusations and suspicions that there was political discrimination behind certain decisions fizzled out, because all I am hearing now is that the Social Policy Minister was extremely just and fair in her dealings with everyone. The backlog of pending cases and waiting lists was being sorted out and from all accounts, her policy has been that if you deserve social benefits in any way, shape or form, then you will receive them, irrespective of who you are. The Minister also received considerable backing by announcing that she would be clamping down on those who abused the system.
Of course, that is the way it should be, and it speaks volumes about our society that we are surprised and fall over ourselves with praise when correctness and abiding by the rules is actually put into action.
Marie Louise, as she is known to most people, has also been criticized for other reasons, namely her adamant stand against divorce when it is common knowledge that her own personal life did not follow a conventional route. Once again, though, public opinion seems to have brushed aside all these contradictions probably because the private lives of politicians do not concern most of us. In fact, I doubt that any of this really matters any more in today’s Malta, because really, who is anyone to talk? Raise your hands anyone who does not have an unconventional family in your family tree.
Which brings us down to the real question: Is Marie Louise the right choice?
If we are speaking about the role of a President who should unite the country while setting aside any of his/her own partisan beliefs, it seems she has already done this.
Even more importantly, one common adjective I have heard to describe this woman is that she is what in Maltese we call “genwina” (genuine and sincere). Whether you personally like her or not, you know where you stand with her and she does not pretend to be something she’s not. I suppose in a world full of fakes, pretensions and affectations, we could do with someone like that.
It is still a shame though, that in order to gain a President who will be acceptable across the political divide, we had to lose a hardworking Minister who was giving the country much-needed results in a very important sector.