The fog of war is thick. The battle lines of this campaign were drawn around the question of truth. There is no doubt that whatever Joseph Muscat had in mind when calling this election it was not really the supposed prosperous golden age that the country is passing through but rather the long list of failures in the field of governance (check out this site) that were not going away anywhere soon. The dangers of institutional breakdown remains the main motivator for this campaign: on the one hand you have a collective force, a coalition of sorts, whose campaign is built around getting a corrupt clique out of power as soon as possible, on the other hand it has become evident that the sole aim of the campaign (of the election itself) is to build a huge smokescreen around the issue of governance.
So the government of redacted contracts, hidden deals, selling of public land, and of structures to hide income in shady jurisdictions came up with an idyllic utopia storyline: The Best Time (L-aqwa zmien). Muscat is supposed to be some kind of mixture between Midas and Pericles and all the commoners of this world will enjoy the trickle down effect of the fabled Muscatonomics. The propaganda machine is well oiled and we now have learnt that the PL knew it would call an early election much before the most recent Panama Paper allegations. The groundwork of newspeak had been prepared with the main two “facts” to be thrown as a foundation for L-Aqwa Zmien being (1) record unemployment, (2) budget surplus. A slick machine that is well honed to reap the short-term benefits of the austerity policy while hiding real figures and projections under a huge carpet the size of GWU headquarters served the purpose. The implication: Par idejn Sodi? Look no further than Muscat.
This is one giant Potemkin village fashioned out of bubbles and risky deals in order to impress. Above all it is fashioned in order to distract. This blog had sussed out Muscat’s modus operandi from the beginning. He is a master in prestidigitation – using one hand to wrought a brilliant illusion while the other is busy at work behind everyone’s back. This election campaign is all about that. The whole front is a distraction from the truth. The truth is what he wants you to look away from. The truth is what his campaign will attack with vigour in order to attempt to prevent it coming out. Potemkine villages existed for Soviet Russia. They could work because in Soviet Russia the means of communication were under strict control.
This is not Soviet Malta. Yet. The danger signs are clear though. Only this morning we read that Jacob Borg of the Times has been summoned to court over a report regarding Pilatus Bank. Matthew Caruana Galizia of ICIJ fame was blocked from Facebook after being reported to the Zuckerberg company for having published documents related to the Panama Papers saga. The government that championed whistleblowers came down on the latest whistleblower that hit the headlines like a ton of bricks. I could go on but you get the idea.
The battle over the truth is getting vicious. It will bring out the worst of the worst and the irony of it all is that once this election is over we will only just have begun. The necessary reforms that must be put in place will require hard work and coordination as well as commitment. We are really risking the fine line between a modern liberal democracy and a third world country best described by the great Hitchens (in Love Poverty and War).
“Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Fat Man and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself. Someone in a café makes an offhand remark. A piece of ironic graffiti is scrawled in the men’s room. Some group at the university issues some improvised leaflet. The glacier begins to melt; a joke makes the rounds and the apparently immovable regime suddenly looks vulnerable and absurd. But it’s almost impossible to convey the extent to which North Korea just isn’t like that. South Koreans who met with long-lost family members after the June rapprochement were thunderstruck at the way their shabby and thin northern relatives extolled Fat Man and Little Boy. Of course, they had been handpicked, but they stuck to their line.
There’s a possible reason for the existence of this level of denial, which is backed up by an indescribable degree of surveillance and indoctrination. A North Korean citizen who decided that it was all a lie and a waste would have to face the fact that his life had been a lie and a waste also. The scenes of hysterical grief when Fat Man died were not all feigned; there might be a collective nervous breakdown if it was suddenly announced that the Great Leader had been a verbose and arrogant fraud. Picture, if you will, the abrupt deprogramming of more than 20 million Moonies or Jonestowners, who are suddenly informed that it was all a cruel joke and there’s no longer anybody to tell them what to do. There wouldn’t be enough Kool-Aid to go round. I often wondered how my guides kept straight faces.
The streetlights are turned out all over Pyongyang—which is the most favored city in the country—every night. And the most prominent building on the skyline, in a town committed to hysterical architectural excess, is the Ryugyong Hotel. It’s 105 floors high, and from a distance looks like a grotesquely enlarged version of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco (or like a vast and cumbersome missile on a launchpad). The crane at its summit hasn’t moved in years; it’s a grandiose and incomplete ruin in the making. ‘Under construction,’ say the guides without a trace of irony. I suppose they just keep two sets of mental books and live with the contradiction for now.”
And now the PN
In the middle of all this there is a campaign that is still unfolding. I would add a little note on the PN and its reactions to some of the campaign issues. The imperative nature of voting this government out has overshadowed any criticism that might be directed to the outfit in opposition. Still, a few words of advice are not out of place and I will dare put a few here for the perusal of whoever might be interested in taking note:
1. On the issue of the www.simonbusuttil.com spoof site. Huge overreaction from the PN. There is nothing wrong with a spoof. Even during election time. The whole point of a spoof is to mock, satirise someone or something. If anything the reaction should be on a political level – more of a criticism – that the Labour Party has officially had to rely on spoof for its campaign rather than leave it to the satirists. Unfortunately satirists have had the wind taken from their sails since the achievements of this government (and I’m talking low levels) are beyond their ken. This government – from Panama to Velbert to Australia Hall satirises itself. Bottom line. The PN should get a grip and not make a big deal about this website. PL on the other hand is resorting to hopeless and desperate tactics in one big campaign whose only reason is to distort or hide the truth. The best repky by the PN would have been “sure it’s amusing, your little satire. We did not even need to create a spoof site… just go over to www.gov.mt … nothing shouts spoof more than our current cabinet and government”. Nuff said.
2. On the Broadcasting Authority. This is one of the authorities in our nation that has been completely neutralised by constant PLPN manipulation over the decades since 1964. Much fuss has been made over the decision to get David Thake and Norman Vella off air since they are candidates in an election and they should not have excessive airtime. Let’s face it the decision is ridiculous. Especially in this day and age when any candidate could simply open an online radio/podcast and transmit it. Why not prevent candidates from having blogs then? In any case though the PN here are only “victims” of their own underhand games that they were more than willing to play over the years. Besides, I am not sure whether silencing Thake and Vella is really a bad thing – in their case the Japanese proverb that the silent man is the best man to listen to really applies. Anyway, how many pensioners criticising the PN billboards could Thake really muster before going mad. Speaking of the Broadcasting Authority I have not seen any Forza Nazzjonali exponent lamenting the decision to leave out Alternattiva Demokratika from the debates, then again, hell has not frozen over yet.