The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Criticism is best when constructive, not destructive

Timothy Alden Sunday, 19 January 2020, 09:04 Last update: about 2 months ago

On a daily basis, the developments in the country under the new leadership have taken most by surprise. Despite promising continuity, Robert Abela has already done more to make up for the mistakes of the past than the Opposition had actually dared hope. I have been clear over the past few days about the need to be cautious; many of the positive signals may only be cosmetic changes thus far.  Will a new Police Commissioner be better if not appointed by a two thirds majority in Parliament? However, we in the Opposition cannot allow cynicism to torpedo our chances for working for a better country. If Robert Abela is ready to work with us, then we need to adjust accordingly. Therefore, this article is an argument I shall ask the Opposition to consider.

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Before the Labour leadership campaign, Chris Fearne had long been seen as a clean Labourite across the whole country. This was evidenced by him achieving the highest ever trust rating in a MaltaToday survey. However, when he threw his hat in the ring for leadership, he became a threat to the Opposition unlike anything it had ever seen before. Here was a Labourite who appealed to many Nationalists, promising good governance and the environment as one of his two pillars. Chris Fearne posed such an existential threat, that the Opposition did everything within its power to push the argument that he would be a continuity candidate after Muscat, even though it was not the case. Were he to have won on a platform of reform, Chris Fearne would have taken a lot of incentive away from many voters to vote against the government.

As the leader of Partit Demokratiku, it would have been in my electoral self-interest to undermine Chris Fearne, since he appealed to my core voters. I chose not to. The Nationalist Party wasted no time in trying to describe him as a threat. I think that was a mistake on their end. As politicians, our loyalty must come first and foremost to the State and its people, not to ourselves. If someone is ready to improve things, then we must find where they are going wrong and correct them there, not fabricate issues.

Our political parties must be vehicles to serve the country, not to serve politicians. Had Chris Fearne won, I would have still campaigned against him based on the fact that I believe in coalition governments offering checks and balances. I would have agreed with some proposals while arguing against him on others, such as the Malta-Gozo tunnel. However, I was not ready to undermine him based on any false premise for selfish reasons.

Now that Robert Abela is signalling he will be more reasonable and moderate than Muscat, we can still oppose him on various solid grounds without being vindictive. For example, one can rightfully argue that Abela should have spoken out against Muscat from the beginning, and that he should not speak against the ideas of protests when protesting is a democratic right. There is no need, however, to deny the possibility of working with Robert Abela on crucial reforms, if he intends to lead the whole country with good-will. We may have a Constitutional convention ahead of us.

We are a young country, still learning how to function as a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, we are still split into tribes and everyone carries a history of family grievances against certain parties or politicians, or arising out of certain events. The brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia can never be washed away. However, it requires resolution.

If Robert Abela intends to resolve it to the satisfaction of her family and citizens of good-will, then he must be given the chance. It would be wrong to undermine him out of tribal hatred, or out of fear of a stronger Labour party. Criticism must always come from a constructive rather than a destructive place. Otherwise the country will never move forward.

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