19 September 2014

Diversionary Tactics

 - Tuesday, 24 April 2012, 00:00

by Leo Brincat

You have to hand it to them. The more they dip in the polls and the less popular the Prime Minister might become among the electorate, the more intensive becomes the Nationalist Party’s spin and campaign to resort to diversionary tactics – in order to deflect attention from the reality on the ground and the problems that are bogging down a fatigue-ridden electorate; both in political terms and even more so from a socio-economic dimension

This can explain why they recently tried to cash in on a routine courtesy call on the Opposition Leader by an outgoing North Korean ambassador to rekindle memories of a 30-year-old accord between Malta and North Korea, which is now not only history but which surely does not reflect in any way the PL’s full integration within EU structures as well as its pro-active outreach for countries with whom we can derive maximum economic and political benefits.

Particularly when it is part of Joseph Muscat’s self-proclaimed mission to project the PL and himself as an outward looking, business-friendly leader who is determined to not only reduce bureaucracy substantially; but also to maximise trade, investment and economic opportunities with those countries that can really rise to the occasion and deliver tangible results.

What I found risible – as your Sunday sister publication’s editorialist did too in all fairness – was that no one takes the Korean News Agency reports seriously at all. As well as that between believing President George Abela, Joseph Muscat and the North Korean Agency there is no doubt that anyone with any grey matter – regardless of his political views – will believe without any hesitation the former two rather than the latter.

One only has to recall how the North Koreans had even twisted World Cup results to give a distorted picture of things, as well as how we were told that the birds cried when Kim Jong-il had passed away.

George Orwell would have definitely had a field day had he ever chosen to visit this inward-looking country that over the years has proved to be its own worst enemy.

What is even more intriguing is that while the Nationalist media played the Korean saga to the hilt, they downplayed to the extent of a political blackout their developing and ongoing relations with Iran. In spite of the pressure that big powers no doubt bring to bear on them because of sanctions issues and the very real nuclear threat.

But please allow me to quote some of the editorials and articles of the PN for your readers to sample the extent of the artificially created hysteria from the government’s side’s end:

Tħassarx ir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta

Il-laqgħat sigrieti u fil-moħbi ma jagħtux stampa ċara.

Ħolqu biss dubji u mistoqsijiet.

And the cherry on the cake:

Muscat theddida għall-politika barranija ta’ Malta

On the other hand, the PN has been very slow to react if at all to the IRNA – Iranian News Agency – reports that I quoted on Bondi+ last Tuesday.

Not only did they refer to a meeting held between the Prime Minister and the Iranian ambassador last November. But it is also worth noting that although reported by IRNA the meeting went unreported in the local press. Although a DOI photographer was present for the meeting not a picture of the meeting had surfaced anywhere in the local media.

At the same time that the Maltese government was ostensibly criticising Iran publicly for having attacked the Tehran British Embassy – Minister Gatt was reported by IRNA to have been busily engaged in discussing the potential of tourism, ICT, navigation, transportation and communications with the Iranian Ambassador. This showed that the visit went way beyond a customary routine meeting with the Foreign Minister.

To date we remain in the dark as to what was really discussed between Tonio Borg and both the Iranian and the North Korean ambassadors when they last visited Malta.

It is common knowledge that when new ambassadors present their credentials, apart from meeting the President they are also invited for lunch at his residence where among other guests representatives from the two political groupings are normally invited.

Is government in any way implying – as Lino Spiteri wryly commented last week – that this routine will be bypassed when the new North Korean Ambassador presents his credentials in the coming days?

Nevertheless, what is known to have baffled most diplomats most was the IRNA report that when Foreign & European Affairs Committee Chairperson Francis Zammit Dimech met the Iranian Ambassador he was reported by IRNA to have dismissed any non professional and discriminatory approaches towards Iran’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear programme. Dr Zammit Dimech has never owned up on the subject so far although even in this case the meeting took place towards the end of last year and was circulated worldwide as one of the major news items of the day by the state-controlled Iranian news agency. I shudder to think how Malta watchers and desk officers must have reacted when such a report landed on their desk!

The Nationalist Party should realise that the time is long past for old hackneyed political tricks that might have worked in the past but that are most unlikely to bear any fruit in the near term.

It is high time that we raised the standard and level of the political debate on the island rather than resorting to demonisation of the worst kind.

The Conservatives had tried it unsuccessfully against Tony Blair when he first ran for Prime Minister and the PN have been doing it ad nauseum with any leader of the PL. As I am sure that they will continue to do in future too.

Meanwhile, the electorate deserves a better deal. Way, way beyond this hype, scaremongering as well as the fodder that we were fed when Gonzi chose to pompously celebrate and highlight his achievements in his fourth-year press conference – in the wake of a series of political mishaps, miscalculations and sheer strategic and tactical errors.

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Leo Brincat is the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change

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