Voters choosing the next PN leader are stretched between two paradoxical responsibilities.

They must choose a winner, someone who can beat Labour at its game, a wise guy in the Italian-American meaning of the word. They must also choose a prime minister, an exemplary leader, unimpeachable, incorruptible, a role model to children, someone to look up to.

This should not be a paradox but Joseph Muscat made it so. There was much to criticise in the prime ministers that preceded him, some more than others. But none of them cast a personal shadow of alleged corruption. Some of them closed an eye to it when their underlings indulged but, to go by the lowest common denominator, no one ever suspected Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici of stashing money in foreign accounts.

But here we are, lumbered with a prime minister fresh from taking the spoils a second time despite accusations of his clammy hand deep in the honey jar that would have forced any other democratically elected prime minister to resign while clearing his name. His numbers have been so formidable that some people have run away with the silly idea that he secured his glory not in spite of the allegations against him, but because of them. Because, like the cigar-chewing, gold-choking mafiosi in a Scorsese movie, we like a wise guy and a little bit of thievery, real or imagined, is really a badge of honour.

Thievery, and with it, impunity: because the wise guy tends to get away with it.

The thing about Joseph Muscat and his gang is their reaction: when faced by mounting evidence, they behaved like a smuggler trying to charm his way through customs. They denied the authenticity of the evidence. They promised alibis to contradict the accusations: audits and reports. They smiled, with the audacity and contempt of the infallible and the immune.

Some people admired them for just that contempt, and tried to bask in their perverted glory, like those geniuses celebrating being robbed outside Pilatus Bank after the last election. Some people rationalised that they were better off with a shady prime minister than the gall of a win for the other side. Some people soothed themselves with the excuse that everyone’s armpits stink (to translate Maltese at its most poetic) and the puritans in opposition must be hypocrites. Some people made allowances for the culpability of the accused by buying into a defence which focused more on slandering journalists and focusing on their character failures to deflect attention from their crimes as politicians. Some people took comfort in denial, switching off their mental receptors, and filtering out the facts they did not want to acknowledge.

There were enough of these people to form a majority to support Muscat.

As a PN activist, would I rather spend the next five years focusing my energies on holding the Labour government to account, or parrying shots fired at my party’s Achilles heel?

And because there were so many, they also found comfort and conviction in numbers. For what is democracy if not the will of the majority? In the safety of numbers, the collective ethic moves from right over wrong to more over less.

The minority that did not vote for Muscat, represented most vividly by the PN members voting this week, reeled with disappointment, bitterness and reluctant awe of the success of their nemesis. Some people envied the ability of Labour voters to support their leader in spite of facts that should have made them run a mile. Some people quietly admired Muscat’s ability to smile his way through a trial by ordeal. Some people wondered why their party could not be a bit more like his.

It is in that context that this current election for PN leadership must be seen. People watching the war of words over Facebook are seeing arguments they became entirely familiar with in the run-up to the general election. There is admiration of contempt; rationalisation grounded in misguided loyalty; projection of original sin on any alternative; a shift of focus from the message onto the messenger; and a general tuning out of details.

I have no advice for you if you are voting Saturday, particularly because I am mindful of the fact that if you are reading this, you have not closed your mind to the facts that surround you and you are therefore not in need of advice.

I can only try to take you through the questions I will be asking myself between now and Saturday before I cast my own vote.

As a PN activist, would I rather spend the next five years focusing my energies on holding the Labour government to account, or parrying shots fired at my party’s Achilles heel?

Have the accusations levelled at the candidates been satisfactorily answered? Have facts been countered by facts? Have matters been resolved to the extent that Labour would not be able to pick on them, use them and reuse them, sapping the party’s blood? Do we have satisfactory explanations that would definitively terminate debate on offshore accounts and money laundering? Do we now understand the financial standing of the candidates?

If explanations are still missing, perhaps evidence is still being collected, is the risk of a leap in the dark worth taking? Are we quite sure that doubt is a winning formula?

The Facebook parade has seen a thousand breezy dismissals of good riddance to people who said they could not continue to support a party led by someone unable or unwilling to explain his personal record in full. Do I think the party can win without all these people? Do I think people who switched from Labour to PN at the last election because of Muscat’s unanswered questions are going to stick with us if our questions are unanswered as well?

Finally, am I so desperate to uncork the bubbly this Sunday that I must vote where the majority looks like it is going? Where would I have rather been on the sixth of June last, licking my wounds at home or celebrating on the doorstep of Pilatus Bank?

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