This column first appeared in Malta Today
There is a very quintessential Maltese saying, “qatt tagħmel lil ħadd alla tiegħek” (never make anyone your ‘god’) and never has that expression held more true than throughout this last week.
It is natural to run through a gamut of overwhelming, conflicting emotions when we learn that someone we thought we could trust and whom we may have looked up to turns out to be not a god, but a mere mortal after all. Anyone who is catapulted to the highest position in the country starts off, after all, as an ordinary person who then grows and grows as a personality, both in our imagination and through the hype and PR which surrounds him or her. The measure of that person then lies in the way they handle this enormous power and clout which has been handed to them by dint of elections and popular support. Unfortunately, Muscat succumbed to the god complex quite early on.
The overwhelming majority for Labour’s Muscat in 2013 was astounding and even then I had written that such a majority carries with it a lot of weight and extreme responsibility. But when the 2017 election results not only saw the PL re-elected, but with an even greater majority (which happened for various reasons), the significance of what this second landslide would come to mean in terms of the way Muscat was viewed by his support base was very disquieting and concerning. The mere mortal by now was on a pedestal.
“35k’ we are often reminded by those who support Muscat unconditionally – although we sometimes forget that this number represents the gap between the two parties, and that the actual number who voted Labour is 170,976 (55% of the votes cast). An unprecedented majority in our political history. At the time I remember thinking, this is getting scary, for who can handle such power and handle it wisely?
“Everyone has become Labour” was the running joke for a while, and indeed that is how it seemed, because a 35k gap between the two parties does not happen without thousands of swing votes. In fact, it is no secret that many former Nationalist voters have been perfectly happy reaping the benefits of the booming economy created by Muscat’s economic model and everywhere you went over these last few years, the mood has been upbeat with a thriving consumer culture in which everyone seemed to be making loads of money: restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, supermarkets, shopping malls, you name it.
And even though the economy is being driven by industries such as the dubious citizenship scheme, an unregulated rental market and the free hand given to the unscrupulous construction industry, the fact that there is full employment (in fact, we have to import workers for certain jobs) has propelled Muscat to dizzying heights in the minds of many people. “There has never been so much work for everyone” has been the common sentiment, spoken in tones of awe.
Little wonder that he is still considered a god, a rock star, by many even now, despite the harrowing details which are emerging every day and which happened “on his watch”. And yet the eagerness to make political leaders our gods has always baffled me. Is there something in the Maltese psyche which needs this omnipotent presence who bestows cushy lucrative posts, contracts and tenders in return for unswerving loyalty? Is there something innate which allows us to turn a blind eye to corruption, political favours, the casual exchange of votes for jobs, shady backroom deals and Panama companies just as long as we are getting along just fine ourselves?
The belief among his supporters that this ordinary man is beyond reproach, untouchable and invincible, is one of the reasons many still cannot wrap their heads around the possibility that he is anyway involved, or knew about what was happening in his own offices, right under his nose, which is pointing to a link to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The concept that Muscat has a moral duty towards the high office he holds, and to the nation, to shoulder political responsibility and step aside now (if only to clear his own name) is alien to a lot of people. His supporters have made him their god and from the looks of it, it seems Muscat made Keith Schembri his god as well.
Not a time for selfies
This is REALLY not a time for grinning selfies. All those who thought it was a good idea to pose in this way, including the PM himself when Parliament was adjourned, are so out of touch it makes you cringe. Dr Muscat, do not just go around with your head in the clouds, comforting yourself that out there they still love you, because you are only thinking about your loyal till-death-do-us-part supporters. You are the PM of the whole country, not just of those who voted for the Labour Party. And it is the whole country, and the world, which is watching such silly behaviour at this time of political crisis and to put it mildly, it does not look good. It smacks of arrogance and of someone who is taking the whole thing too frivolously when out there in their homes people are having trouble sleeping, arguing with friends and relatives, and are extremely anxious and depressed about how this will all pan out.
After years of pandering to big business while burying your head in the sand (or worse, if it is proved you were complicit) you have thrown the country into turmoil and the least you can do is to take it seriously and acknowledge that people are very, very worried. That’s nothing to smile about.