The Malta Independent 17 July 2018, Tuesday

Riches over rights

Rachel Borg Saturday, 7 July 2018, 12:02 Last update: about 9 days ago

The 2013 election campaign of the Labour Party was designed to give the impression that there was a dysfunctional democracy in Malta as a result of the 25 years in Government of the Nationalist Party, especially under the Gonzi administration.  The country was painted as being in some desert-like place, dying of thirst and without a roof over its head. 

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It was also portrayed as having become corrupt, autocratic and deprived of talent.  The PL billboards that appeared all over the island created a vision akin to the delivery of God’s people to the land of milk and honey.  There was an alternative that could be trusted, was the underlying message.  Europe itself was struggling with Greece and Italy and the economic crash of the euro and the 2008 banking crises. 

On the other side of the world, the fast and evident expansion of China’s economy was lurking like a newly awakened dragon.  The Chinese Communist Party had broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress, doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years.  The Chinese elite argue that their model—tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock. The political leadership changes every decade or so, and there is a constant supply of fresh talent as party cadres are promoted based on their ability to hit targets.

The resemblance of the Chinese model to the new method being proposed by the incoming Labour Government of the young Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister and his fresh talent in the way of Keith Schembri, a business man of success and Konrad Mizzi, head-hunted for the role of bridging east and west was subtle, but people were receptive to the concept, even though they did not yet have the macro picture of things to come.  The new regime had succeeded in convincing people that growth was lacking and they could deliver it.

Paying attention to public opinion meant, contrary to expectation, that freedom of expression would be controlled but projects would be introduced without opposition or friction.  Many people began to put up with the accompanying corruption if the system delivered growth.

A Pew Research Centre poll, of Russians, from 2002 to 2012 showed that just below 80% said a strong economy is more important than good democracy, which scored about 20%.

However, both in Russia and in China, deeper problems lie beneath the support of the regime.  Much of the riches are in the hands of the political elite and the businesses they are in bed with.  Growth slowed in Russia and apart from holding elections, democracy is very weak or non-existent in the modern sense.  In China, although it remains strong and has gained again after a period of diminished growth, the blow, if it should fail in delivering consistent growth is tied to its population’s trust and could mean chaos.

 

The fresh management of Malta’s riches was transferred to a more authoritarian system, based on majority rules, which would guarantee a new power station, a boom in the building industry and in tourism and open the doors of Europe to the same wealthy Russians and Chinese who had now become the billionaires of the world.

The European Union was being fleeced and mocked, as it appeared unable to gather enough faith in its own democratic system, to fix the problems they had at home.  Malta had established a good name for itself, both in terms of democracy and of its positive economic results so it was not immediately suspected of illiberal behavior and maybe even thought it was needed to revitalize the economy.

The tide has turned now and the elected members of the European commission have realized that the threat to democracy in Malta is great and exceeded any popular support.  Foreign leaders are more willing to push their agenda in defending the values and freedom of the EU when rulers in their own back yard are engaging in illiberal behavior, even if a majority supports it.

But with the belief in majority rules still riding so high in the newly vamped Labour party, most or all criticism is simply ignored, mocked, or rejected outright.  The continued accumulation of power and the emphasis on riches over rights, has completely blinded the electorate into a state of either fear of opposition or reluctance to be the first to choose otherwise.

Without proper checks and balances on the power of elected government and its ruling class, as ensured by proper, democratically elected and functioning institutions, the chances are that the system will not even try anymore to form a part of the Western style politics and openly boast of the way the nepotism and cronyism, ripe with conflict of interest,  has brought unprecedented wealth to the Maltese and other European and non-European immigrants and any corruption along the way is more than decent.

The slashing of trees without any respect whatsoever for the opinion of honest people, the profit driven construction industry destroying heritage and cherished landmarks, building on ODZ land and the constant erosion of freedom of speech together with clearly exposed corruption and unethical behavior from the ruling class, is enough to come out and say, without any blushes or regrets on their part, riches over rights and to hell with the rest of the EU and Simon Busuttil and Ana Gomes and Roberta Metsola and David Casa and Maria Efimova and of course, Daphne Caruana Galizia.  If it works in Russia and China, why spoil the party?

Definitely, the local population are not determined enough or convinced enough to resist the rise and force of an unopposed regime, whilst other countries around them embrace more far-right politics and try to dictate the agenda in Europe.  Even Joseph Muscat will look reasonable then.

The only hope is that realize that if they ignore the opinion of even a small minority, they are likely to end up ignoring the whole country, who will, at some point, revert to democratic principles and once more seek a rule- based democracy over majority rule.

 

 

 

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