Tuesday, 16 June 2009

MaltaToday: The truth will set you free [Interview with Georg Sapiano, PN]


[Excerpt from the article].

The outspoken GEORG SAPIANO says the PN has to face its own truth, and tell the truth to the people, even at the cost of votes.

In his last speech Labour leader Joseph Muscat made a clear distinction between Church and State and reiterated his stance in favour of divorce and gay rights. He still won by a huge margin. Has moral conservatism become an electoral liability for the PN?

Despite his liberal views on these issues, Sapiano does not expect his party to change its views simply to win more votes. “If the people leading the party today honestly feel that it is in the interest of society not to have the laws and institutions that Labour is advocating, then their conservatism is justified. Lawrence Gonzi cannot say ‘We detest divorce but we will introduce it as it will get us votes’.

“On the other hand we first promised to give rights to people who co-habit more than ten years ago and we have still done nothing about it.”

So as he raises the importance of the pursuit of truth in politics, has the lawyer and former journalist now transfigured himself into a philosopher or party ideologue?

“I do not think that I have changed very much... as a journalist I don’t think I ever concealed anything to make the ministers in my party appear better than they should have. Anyway, it’s pompous to go on about how people should say the truth, so let’s just call it ‘doing the decent thing’.”

Yet, as a candidate he refused to say an untruth regarding his campaign spending last year. “One option was to first spend more than the Lm600 limit, which is ridiculously low, and then take a false oath… that was not the decent thing to do.”

When quizzed by the Sunday Times most candidates contesting the MEP elections were evasive on their campaign spending. Georg Sapiano points out that the law clearly includes donations or assistance provided by ‘friends’: “I think (Nationalist candidate) Edward Demicoli was very frank when he called a spade a spade and declared his expense had exceeded the limit.”

He then singles out a number of Labour candidates for their style of campaigning: “Is it possible that John Attard-Montalto, who was reported as putting photos of himself in kitchen utensils distributed as gifts during an event, remained within the limit set by law? Does he deny doing this or that he wrapped bank notes around carnations he gave out in the 2004 election campaign? Do Louis Grech and Sharon Ellul Bonici deny that they receive an EU salary, which is why they could afford the kind of campaign they had?”

He also expresses his disappointment at the way the Electoral Commission is washing its hands on this issue. “This is an issue on which many seem happy to look the other way, but increasingly people want those who emerge from private to public life to represent a higher standard of behaviour… of course, I may be wrong… I’m told that many don’t care.”

Speaking on Net TV on Sunday, Sapiano spoke in sharp contrast to other commentators and refused to minimise the scale of Labour’s victory and called on fellow party supporters to call a defeat a defeat and stop the spin: ‘Wake up, smell the coffee,’ he told a startled Charlot Bonnici, the Nationalist MP.

But still, he doesn’t see the EP result as a threat to the legitimacy of Lawrence Gonzi’s government, despite Labour winning by a margin of 33,000 votes only a year after the PN won a general election by just 1,500 votes. “The right and obligation of the government to serve a full mandate was established by the March 2008 general election and this result was accepted in the most democratic of ways by Alfred Sant despite the fact that the PN lacked an absolute majority.”

In Nationalist circles, Alfred Sant was considered as the PN’s best asset. But has this changed with Muscat, who may well have become his own party’s best asset? One major advantage of Muscat over Sant is that he is a family man, Sapiano says.

“He is the first Labour leader in ages to be a traditional family man… One can see him taking a stroll on a promenade in the company of his wife and two children.”

Isn’t this an unfair disadvantage against aspirant leaders who are single, divorced, separated or gay?

“In any society and not just Malta, electorates warm to politicians who are married and have children. One has to remember that numbers play a great part in the political game. Since most people are, or aspire to get, married and have children, persons who are single, separated or who cohabit start at a disadvantage.”


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