Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi yesterday evening blamed his own party and government for not living up to people’s expectations and for not delivering what people expected from them.
In a televised press conference held at the party’s HQ, just a few hundred metres away from where a huge PL crowd was celebrating, Dr Gonzi did not mince his words: “I am disappointed at my own government,” he said, “for leaving people hanging for a long time without giving them any solution to their problem. But then, when the prime minister intervenes, most problems get solved. Some problems can never get solved but people must also be told they have no chance of getting what they ask for.”
This was as good an admission of defeat as any. More was to come. Remarkably, in his press conference, Dr Gonzi mentioned the Labour Party only marginally to urge cooperation, rather than addressing the issues raised by Labour.
But when Dr Gonzi identified the reasons why people voted for Labour, of the three issues he mentioned, two fall within the remit of Minister Austin Gatt. Maybe it was the wrong perception one got, but it would seem Dr Gatt is about to become the government’s scapegoat for the defeat.
Dr Gonzi said the electorate was worried about three main issues:
Immigration. Even here, Dr Gonzi did not analyse this issue except to insist once again this must not be turned into a partisan issue.
Work. In this respect Dr Gonzi curiously mentioned the coming public transport reform. This time, maybe for the first time, he referred to the people employed in the sector and said that while the government still intends to give the country a modern public transport system, one must take into consideration the livelihood of the workers involved.
The water and electricity rates. On the one hand, Dr Gonzi said the country must not find itself facing more payments for fuel imports but on the other hand he said one must consider the impact of such rates on families, as well as on industries, SMEs and the tourism sector.
Yet Dr Gonzi shied away from declaring he will hold an immediate reshuffle. He will only do this if and when it becomes in the national interest, he said.
Ever since he read the riot act to the ministers, they got out of their offices and started intense house visiting. This was a sobering and useful exercise, which must be done on a permanent basis: it enabled the ministers to find out how their decisions impact on people’s lives.
The country is made up of people, he said, who have their pain, their problems and difficulties. The government must find a remedy for the pain and anguish of the people.
Earlier, sitting in front of the PN candidates (except for Frank Portelli who was absent), Dr Gonzi defended his administration’s record. This was the first year of the legislature, he said, and the international recession made a number of decisions imperative. Some of these decisions must surely have made the government lose votes. The experience of past years has shown that the country must face difficult decisions and take them, as this has shown will benefit the country in the long run. So must the government do in the coming months and years of the legislature.
The government was elected on an electoral manifesto and it intends to implement fully what it promised the country, even if some key commitments, such as regards the Income Tax reform, have had to be postponed due to the international recession.
This paper reminded Dr Gonzi of the phrase Norman Lamont had used against John Mayor: “This government is in office, but not in power”. Dr Gonzi tried to laugh this off and replied he is both in office and in power, but he would perhaps have been more cautious had he known the particular and general background of that remark: Norman Lamont had just resigned after Black Monday and this was his active defiance in resignation.
That something had snapped in the prime minister’s mind can be seen if one considers his other assertion: that the election result was worse than expected but better than feared.
Five years ago, PN had obtained 39.3% of the vote. Today, as the electorate increased by 18,000, it obtained 40%+. On the other hand, however, PL which obtained 54% last time, this time obtained 55-56%.
Earlier in the campaign, Dr Gonzi revealed, there were fears that turnout would go down to 75% and the PN’s share would go down to 35%.
Dr Gonzi kept away from asserting who will eventually win the still hypothetical sixth seat (which Malta can only get if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified) even though many PN officials speak of the party getting the sixth seat. Labour’s high expectations of a 4-1 victory have been reduced to a repeat of the 3-2 formula, which can even become 3-3 if the sixth seat goes to PN. Still, it will be in the workings of the Single Transferable Vote that this will be unraveled.
Finally, Dr Gonzi confirmed a The Malta Independent on Sunday story carried yesterday about Mepa reform. After about five Cabinet meetings, the reform is now finally ready and will be launched in the coming days.