Saturday 20 July 2019

An election campaign gripped by an identity crisis

This article first appeared in Malta Today

When respondents were asked in Malta Today’s latest survey what they were voting for in the upcoming European elections, the top five reasons were

1.  MEPs ready to defend Malta’s name - 26.1%
2.  No particular  issue - 20.9%
3.  Capable MEPs - 9.6%
4.  The environment  - 6.9%
5.  Illegal immigration - 6.4%

As far as the campaigning goes, much of it seems to tally with reason number two: no particular issue. In fact, with two weeks to go, the dearth of any real substance or sense of direction from many of the candidates is still apparent. The two main parties also seem to be jumping from one unrelated issue to another when it comes to what these elections are about.

You have two Labour candidates who are busy raffling off cars and expensive trips in gimmicks which not only smack of desperation but are ethically dubious. You can win a Fiat Panda in the lottery being organised by Joe Sammut (the proceeds will go to charity we are told) while Lorna Vassallo is promising a week long holiday in Dubai plus other prizes in her lottery. If you really need to go to these lengths to get people to vote for you, I think a close family member should take you aside and have a quiet word while perhaps suggesting another career path.

Meanwhile the Labour leader was quoting as saying that “A vote for PL candidates is like a vote for Joseph Muscat”. Apart from the fact that he is now speaking about himself in the third person, is he really sure he should be making this all about him? What if someone wants to vote for a Labour MEP candidate whom they believe in, but does not necessarily agree with all of Muscat’s policies? A statement like that is a sure way to make voters decide not to bother voting at all.

The PN, in the meantime, seems to have completely lost any plot which may have been left. First Adrian Delia says this election is a referendum on abortion: I am still trying to figure out how he came to this bizarre conclusion. And now this week they have plucked another issue out of thin air. What on earth were they thinking with that billboard which talks about “wanting to win the fight against cancer”. First of all, it is such a meaningless platitude that it does not even have to be said – who doesn’t wish there could be a way to beat this devastating disease? Secondly, it comes across as such a preposterous claim that it verges on the absurd. Is the PN saying that it intends to find the cure for cancer? If not, then what is it saying exactly? The only thing they have succeeded in doing is causing unnecessary pain to a lot of people by using an illness which has struck almost every single family, as a trite slogan in a political campaign. Nil points for sensitivity.

The Labour party’s latest billboard showing a hand hitting a panic button (referring to the PN’s scaremongering about abortion) is no better. What on earth does all this political tit for tat have to do with choosing the best representatives for the European Parliament?

The candidates should be telling us what makes them the most suitable people to fill those seats at the institution where EU legislation which affects us all is passed, but only a few are doing so. The sight of David Casa posing with PN politicians of yesteryear like Eddie Fenech Adami tells us…what exactly? All that it tells me is that he is trying to ride on the tailcoats of the face and name of the man who led the PN when it was in its heyday.

MEPs are the voice of the people at the European Parliament and they will be expected to know their stuff when it comes to a wide range of EU policies. But looking at some campaigns you would think they were campaigning for the local councils instead (which are a completely different kettle of fish). Others refer to issues which would make sense in a national election, but are irrelevant in the much wider framework of the Euro Parliament. The official party billboards themselves echo this, as they continue to convey messages which do not make sense within a European context at all.

It is also clear that there are a few candidates who are completely out of their depth and threw their hat in the ring for such an important post for reasons known only to themselves (the fact that it is a notoriously well-paid post is, of course, just.a coincidence). Well, they only have a couple of weeks left to tell us what they stand for and what we would gain by voting for them to ensure that whoever represents the citizens of Malta at EU level are worth their salt. But just one word of advice: forget pushing more glossy pamphlets through our mailboxes: no one reads them and they go straight to recycling. And the only thing they tell us is that the one issue you definitely don’t care about is the environment.

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