Wednesday 12 December 2018

Can you imagine if Malta had mid-term elections?

This article first appeared in Malta Today

It is not just a fluke that the candidates elected in Tuesday’s mid-term elections in the US have seen several records being broken in terms of gender and ethnicity. There was a determined effort by the more liberal media as well as women’s and minority groups to get out the vote, and the wave of voters heeded the call and responded.

From Muslim women, to Latinas, to Native Americans and the first openly LGBT candidate to win a major office, the implications of this breakthrough in diversity are considerable. In the melting pot which is the United States, this kind of representation is crucial, because those making the decisions cannot continue to always be male and Caucasian. According to the Business Insider website, these elections have also broken records for early voter turnout and the number of female candidates of all races, who ran for office and who were elected. History was made with the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is only 29 years of age.

When you have such a mixture of communities, those elected to office need to reflect their constituencies, who must have their voice count where it matters, especially in the Trump era.

This was an important election because Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives, ending a two-year streak in which Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. After two years of Trump, many have realized that if ever there was a President who needs to have checks and balances, it is this one.

The results of Tuesday’s vote made me lapse into a wistful daydream. Can you imagine if halfway through a legislature, we could all assess the performance of our respective MPs and vote on how they have been doing their job? We could throw all the ones who are rubbish to the kerb, and elect new, refreshing faces giving them (and us) a chance to start over. It would cut a lot of big egos down to size, make them hopefully more accountable to voters and nip any attempts to create little empires within their departments or Ministries in the bud.

Obviously, this is just a pipe dream. It cannot happen because our electoral system is diametrically different to the American one which holds Presidential elections every four years, with mid-terms to vote for Congress and the Senate every four years in between.

Our system is based on the winner takes all concept; once you win the Parliamentary majority you can basically push through any legislature, especially since MPs rarely break ranks with the official policy of their party and invariably, they vote accordingly. Toeing the line is not only expected, but doing otherwise is considered political suicide. The only alternatives are to either go along with whatever is happening and keeping your mouth shut to save your own hide (but having to wrestle with your conscience afterwards), or else go public, openly defy the ‘leader’ and ultimately, resign. There have been cases when MPs have ‘crossed the floor’, literally crossing over to the other side of the House to vote with the other side, but the times this has happened can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Rocking the boat is not encouraged and politicians who switch sides with the ease of flipping a switch are viewed with distrust. Unswerving party loyalty is what earns you staying power and a long political career, which is rewarded by voters who vote you in, again and again. It also helps if you can dole out political favours of course, in the time-old tradition which is so much a part of our culture that, if asked, 90% of the population would probably tell you that there is nothing wrong with it.

Still, I find it hard to believe that politicians always agree with every single thing their party proposes, especially as the party in power becomes more omnipotent and cocksure with every electoral victory it secures. The current situation, where the Labour Government is extremely comfortable in the knowledge that the Opposition is so fragmented that there is basically no Opposition at all, is an extremely worrying one. The only ones who don’t think so are party loyalists and diehards who only care that “their” party is ruling the roost, and that they are personally getting something out of it. Also firmly propping up this current administration is a long list of those who are financially doing very well, thank you very much – in fact, they have never had it so good.

In his interview with Times Talk, Immanuel Mifsud voiced the dejection which many of us feel when he said that he sees no way out of the deeply polarized two-party system which has such a grip on the Maltese nation that most can only think in terms of ‘red’ or ‘blue’ . He pointed out that critical thinking is severely lacking, and the inability to assess a situation from an unbiased stance (rather than from the platform of what ‘my party’ says) can be read every day on the comments boards. His suggestion that political party broadcasting stations should be shut down has my wholehearted support, although I cannot see either the PN or the Labour party taking this potentially risky (for them) step any time soon.

After all there is a whole new generation out there which is about to vote for the first time which still needs to be brainwashed, and since many adults (let alone teenagers) barely read any more, how else are we going to tell them what to think unless we give them a daily dose of injections via good old-fashioned TV & radio propaganda?

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