The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Succession

Alfred Sant Monday, 18 March 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Prime Minister and PL Leader Joseph Muscat has declared he will shortly be resigning all his appointments. An enormous majority of PL members and of party supporters disagree that this should happen. Some argue that the race it will trigger to elect a successor would destabilize the party and the country.

Though their concern has importance, it does not seem to me to be the strongest argument against what the Prime Minister is proposing. Over the years, in the two major parties and including when they were in government, leadership transitions occurred under quite acute conditions of political competition. Yet they did not leave behind them incurable wounds.

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The best argument against is that the political project laid out by Muscat himself regarding how Malta should develop seems to be midway to the end-point where he wanted to drive it – along a path that has been greatly successful. No one can understand why this line of action should not be brought to its endpoint by the same person who laid it out. That is what would make political sense, not just from a partisan perspective but also equally, from a national perspective.

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A project led by no party

Developments in the UK over the implementation of Brexit illustrate the enormous problems that arise in a representative parliamentary democracy when a project that promotes fundamental changes, is launched by a body which is not an organised political party operating according to a precise action programme.

The Brexit movement was not spearheaded by any party. It was run by influential protagonists coming from both main parties in Britain. It won a referendum but did not have the backing of a united political structure focussed on implementing Brexit according to some definite programme.

There followed the uncertainties and disagreements within the UK that have shocked so many people. The Europeans succeeded in negotiating an agreement that boxed the British into a corner. There is a House of Commons majority against the agreement but no majority in favour of some alternative arrangement. The result has been confusion.

I was always sceptical about the use of a referendum in a parliamentary democracy. The Brexit outcome has reinforced my suspicions. 

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The parties today

The structures of the past are no longer there.

Then, there would be assiduous members always present at the frequent meetings organised for them at their clubs, plus a local committee whose members enjoyed esteem and appreciation within their community, and management structures that went up from the local level to the general conference and its executive committee.

In one way or another, such structures are still to be found in all democratic parties. But social media are flattening them out by dominating all discourse between citizens, Parties as well as their election candidates have no alternative but to employ social media to get their messages across to party members and to the wider society. Even the methods deployed by some political parties to organise their own internal elections rely on social media.

We seem to have arrived to the point where even the parties can recognize their own members only in a “virtual” sense – namely as visual and written responses coming in from the other side of a laptop or iphone, but not as physical personalities.

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