In times of elections, more often than not do we hear politicians talking about the responsibilities which they will assume should they be entrusted with the position in public office which they are campaigning for by means of a majority of citizens voting for them. Amongst all the duties which elected officials have, one of the most crucial is the ability to receive and accept criticism, be it delivered in one form or another. Although this is an obvious expectation of what entering the political world entails, not all politicians take lightly to being criticised for their ideas and policies, while others take it constructively as a way to improve their conduct as public servants.
Regardless of all the grandeurs associated with being involved in politics, being elected to public comes with obligations to those who voted for newly-appointed public servants in the first place. This is encompassed in the rhetoric which we hear so many times, with regards to how our elected representatives ought to conduct themselves, where we see the most commonly used phrases being put to use, such as: politicians having their jobs to make a difference and not use it for self-gain, them being in either government or opposition to serve the people and not themselves, and them being given responsibilities with their new positions in the public sphere. These responsibilities at least, are one of the most important factors in what will be dealt with in this article, since politicians are reminded to not abuse their newly-obtained powers in light of the consequences of them not being re-elected, together with them being criticised when assuming their job to be a walk in the park with no consequences for their mistakes and mishaps.
In many cases, those who act as the critics of politicians are described as individuals with ill-intent of disrupting their work, smearing their reputations and as having no knowledge of what they are talking about. These are just some of the variables which constitute the majority of responses which politicians have to those who criticise their policy decisions, proposals or their public statements. A common feature is politicians taking it to the next level and branding the criticism which they receive as an ‘attack’ on their person, as if their character, friends or family got insulted and dragged through the mud, when it would not have been the case by a mile and a half. Instances like this display themselves very clearly in the Maltese political scene, where the tv stations of both major political parties frame even the slightest critique towards their leaders as a ferocious attack and as an outpour of negativity.
Apart from being political propaganda arms, Maltese TV news stations leap to the defence of the party leaders which they represent, thus enabling the personality cult surrounding Joseph Muscat and Adrain Delia in their respective political parties. A typical response to such criticism normally displays itself in assuming intent which the critics of politicians don’t necessarily have. Having reservations about Joseph Muscat is equitable to being a traitor against the whole of Malta, and criticising Adrian Delia somehow represents a vile hatred towards him which is dominant amongst his critics. This are at least the narratives which are pushed by the supporters of both political figures, as a means to deviate from the existing objections to their policies and rhetoric and so as to make any disagreement seem unacceptable.
Malta is not alone to falling a victim to the glorification of politicians resulting in a personality cult, but we can see this manifesting itself all over the world. Figures like U.S. President Donald Trump, British Labour Party leader Jeremey Corbyn, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez to mention some have a very strong following which often falls within the realms of focussing purely on their human characteristics as opposed to being informed about what policies and political ideals they support, with there even being blindness towards the negative aspects within them. Support for figures holding high office can only so far as be agreeing with their ideals and policies, but would however be reckless to defend such figures for every single action which they carry out and continuously defend them even when they are objectively and clearly in the wrong due to their misdeeds.
A very common tactic which we see at play is that of deflection, whereby the critics of politicians are demonized by means bringing up the gender of public figure in question, when it wouldn’t have been the subject of the critique in question in order to depict the critics as having ill intent, and the public figure is morally superior. The increased focus on the identity of such of figures only deviates further from the policy substance which they espouse, with the end result being their supporters declaring their affection after any speech or appearance, but offering no response to why they support them in the first place, or don’t mention what ideas they support in the first place.
Not only should politicians hold themselves accountable to their voters, but they should also be ready to hold themselves accountable to the media, in terms of not allowing themselves to be unchallenged for their statements and declarations in the public sphere. Refusing to do so would only make such figures more unable to accept criticism towards them, and give an impression of higher standards being expected from those whose job it is to disagree with and scrutinise those in power, than it is for those in power who act responsibly and dutifully.
To conclude, the era we’re living in is on a borderline between lawmakers forgetting the duty they have towards those who gave them the opportunity to represent them, and the responsibility of voters to keep politicians in check when they fall short of fulfilling their promises, and acknowledging the importance of the role which they have. Voters ought to expect more from politicians when electing them, than what politicians ought to expect from their voters in return while they’re in office.
Written by: Jacob Callus