The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

Rules of political engagement

Alfred Sant MEP Thursday, 2 December 2021, 08:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

How political adversaries consider each other and negotiate with each other is a subject of great interest. At the heart of major political choices that by themselves create enormous tensions between individuals, feature too, acute ambitions and personal rivalries. These characterise all power struggles. The “best” democracies are those where the tensions generated by this process do not paralyse the ability of societies to arrive at needed decisions and acutally enhance it.

However such tensions take different shapes. Two greatly contrasting modes appear: the first, in parliamentary systems dominated by two parties on  a winner-takes-all basis, whereby the former assumes the government, the other the opposition; the second, in systems where governments are usually  a coalition of two or more parties.

Where two parties dominate, political controversies end up keener in tone, more personalised. You either win or lose. Where runs the practice of coalitions, one had better stay back from all-out confrontation for it cannot be ruled out that shortly, sooner rather than later, the time may come to look for the cooperation of whoever one is confronting.



I guess a friend of mine is quite correct when he explains as follows the political difficulties that the Nationalist Party is facing: Post the 2013 elections, the PN failed to launch an extensive and deep dialogue with its hardcore members, in order to inject them with an enthusiasm for the future. On this, it could have then launched changes needed to ensure an internal renewal. Then, it allowed its top representatives to splinter, which served to further alienate its grassroots. A party in which internal strife persists ends up losing credibility with the electorate.

This friend doubts whether the so-called split between conservatives and liberals within the PN helps so much to explain what is going on. The same division exists in practically all parties, he says. If the PN had not put its hardcore at a distance, if it had undergone renewal and succeeded to eliminate discord, conservatives and liberals would have found it possible to cohabit within its ranks. 



Stephen Sondheim’s name (along with that of Leonard Bernstein) is associated in my mind with just one musical -- “West Side Story” -- even though Sondheim wrote many other masterpieces. That musical always impressed me with how in a few moments, it could shift through a range of emotions and in a few words project the strongest hopes and the strongest surges of despair.

It showed young people caught in the grip of habits and circumstances which keep them tied to inherited behaviours that prevented them from striking out for a better way of life. As a young man in the Malta of the 1960’s, I felt that “West Side Story” was extremely powerful and effective in how it projected this message artistically. So much so that in the final scene of a novel I wrote at the time, “L-Ewwel Weraq tal-Bajtar”, I made extensive references to a song from the musical.

I remembered all this when reading the articles featured in the media about Sondheim’s recent death.

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