In democratic states, the government and the ruling party are distinct from each other. The PN’s strategists seem to have forgotten this in their latest campaign.
As part of its share in the long-drawn electoral campaign going on in Malta, the Nationalist Party is offering one of its supporters the chance of being Prime Minister for a day – along with a free iPad 3.
The blurb on the party’s (extremely good looking) new website, mychoice.pn, goes as follows:
Ever imagined what it would be like to be Prime Minister of Malta – even for just one day? Here’s your opportunity to find out.
On Tuesday 19th June, the winner will be in for a treat: get to meet the press, form your own cabinet, tour the corridors of Auberge de Castille, discuss your own policy ideas with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and get ready for a day full of unique events and media attention.
If this were satirical, it would have been nothing short of brilliant – mostly because people fit to be Prime Minister would not consider being responsible for a eurozone country in 2012 to be a treat – unless they possess a masochistic streak/miraculous powers.
Meeting the media
The first part of said treat is meeting the press. If you’re desperate for fame and popularity – a trait a prime minister should at least try to conceal – then yes, meeting the press is indeed a treat. But things are different in the real world, and it is hard to take this comment at face value.
Let’s take it seriously, for a moment. If any prime minister finds meeting the press to be a treat, there are two ways of understanding that.
- The Prime Minister – along with the government – is doing an impressive job. Everything is going to plan, and everyone, including the opposition press – cannot help but notice that and keep asking him how he does it.
- The press is toothless, not daring to hold the government to account and ask the important – often uncomfortable – questions on the issues which do not figure on government press releases, questions which, when asked via email, would take ages to be replied, despite their urgent nature.
It’s either that, or the press assembled in this case is the state broadcaster and the ruling party’s media, in which case a prime minister could get away with murder (and have it reported as a suicide).
Cobbling a cab together
The second treat on offer is forming one’s own cabinet. This is even harder to take seriously. I can easily choose my own (pretend) cabinet. I call the Alliance of Awesome, and it is made up of my old chums from school, some assorted family members and my girlfriend.
But choosing a proper cabinet is anything but a treat – just ask Lawrence Gonzi, who in 2008 had “lamented quite bluntly” to the US ambassador that the elected crop of Nationalist MPs offered a “limited talent pool from which to select ministers that are matched well with their competencies and are able to form an efficient working government”, wishing instead he could pluck people from industry or academia to be ministers instead. A perfectly reasonable lamentation, particularly considering the small size of the island, the even smaller number of capable people and the small portion of the latter who actually run for office. But a headache nonetheless.
Choosing entails leaving people out – and that only means unhappy backbenchers, some of whom have been quite a thorn in the Prime Minister’s side throughout this legislature. Quite the treat.
Tour of Castille
Being shown round Castille is a treat in itself. Being shown round by the man in charge is a privilege.
An issue of identity
Despite calling the campaign PM for a day, a couple of sentences into the blurb and the illusion is shattered (and shat on) – Lawrence Gonzi is still prime minister, and you only get to discuss ideas with him. Which is to suggest that PM for a day is really the opportunity to hang out with the PM for a day, rather than be him, which I suspect is where heir apparent Joseph Muscat stopped reading (provided he already has an iPad).
This is all well and good; after all, better a prime minister who actually was elected rather than one who won a party-sponsored competition. A tour round Castille with the media present is not such a bad thing – I saw Lawrence and Kate Gonzi in a similar activity last year and the pair had a grand old time with the assembled schoolchildren.
There is, however, a snag, and a nasty one at that. This contest is organised by the Nationalist Party, while the post of prime minister, despite being occupied by the leader of the Nationalist Party for the best part of the last 25 years, remains firmly a governmental position.
In Malta’s case, the Prime Minister and the leader of the Nationalist Party happen to be the same person, but that is historically contingent, and not necessary.
It is in totalitarian states that the ruling party and state are one and the same, where the army and the police serve the party and government is characterised by flagrant corruption, clientelism and blatant injustice.
A party seeking re-election could do worse than observe that distinction, particularly in an electoral campaign.