This article first appeared in Malta Today
It is common knowledge that every election is decided by a growing, silent swathe of people who read and observe and make up their minds in the quiet of their own homes. You won’t see them draping their children in party flags, or being on the frontline of any mass meeting flaunting the party colours, or showing their support while listening to the “Leader” in between jumping up and down to the beat of unz, unz, unz. In fact, they probably have a severe allergic reaction to the very sight of those crowds at a mass meeting.
They will not be parading themselves on TV, lining up in an (uncharacteristically) obedient queue as they hand over their cheques during the party stations’ fundraising marathons with a handshake and a beaming smile for the cameras.
They will not be screaming their views down a telephone line during phone-ins on the political radio talk shows, about “dawk il-qatta’ ħodor” (those malicious people”) or “dawk il-korrotti” (that corrupt lot).
And they are certainly not the ones flooding Facebook in what seems to be a concerted effort in this campaign to galvanize anyone with a FB account and recruit them as social media canvassers to badger their friends, families and acquaintances. What is that about? I can somehow understand and make allowances for the party activists whose job it is to spread the word about their party, but when ordinary people become self-styled politicians and spin doctors, popping into every conversation and thread to give their two cents’ worth, you know that the foot soldiers have been despatched to march forth and multiply.
Apart from the well-known quip about everyone having an opinion, if it just had to stop at that, I don’t think it would be so bad. For example, when I see one of those statuses solemnly proclaiming how the person is going to vote and why, I think, hmm, ok, that’s nice, but why did you feel the need to share this? OK, whatever, so I keep scrolling because after all, to each his own. The overwhelming compulsion to shout one’s politics from the rooftops is a characteristic which has gained momentum since the last campaign in 2013 when people were still testing the waters of just how much they should reveal about whom they support. The snap election this year however, immediately had a different feel about it because not only did it came out of the blue, but there was an urgency attached to it; the battle over public opinion was on, and there was no time to waste. People whom I’ve known for years who have never spoken about politics are suddenly being very vocal and seem to be online talking politics 24/7. Again, so what, to each his own.
What I do find unacceptable, however, is when people swarm onto a thread and virtually “assault” someone who is voting differently or who have simply not made up their minds (or perhaps have decided it is no one’s business but their own). It is intrusive, rude and above all, extremely counter-productive. I think even the most moderate voter would be highly annoyed at such a strident, hectoring attitude. It is just guaranteed to get up people’s noses and above all, read my lips, IT DOES NOT WORK.
There is something which is just so condescending and arrogant when supporters from a different party appear out of the blue and start holding forth on why they think others are wrong and why you HAVE to vote like them.
Excuse me? Did I blink and suddenly find myself in a country where everyone is obliged to vote the same way or else risk finding themselves at the receiving end of abuse?
I would even hazard a guess and say that if someone is still undecided, being badgered would make them want to swing in the complete opposite direction. Now that may not sound like a rational reaction, but voting intentions are not always 100% logical – a lot of it is down to emotion and passion, one’s upbringing and background, fused with a whole package of mixed feelings which are unique and different to everyone else. In a country which is so small that every political decision affects us immediately and directly, we have all been at the receiving end of policies, actions, discrimination, prejudice, injustices, vindictiveness at the workplace and a number of other mitigating factors which colour our beliefs with each passing election and with each passing administration. Each time something happens which is politically motivated (whether perceived or actual), it is one more black mark against that particular party, at least in our eyes. So when people say “I only care how it affects me”, it does not necessarily mean it is because they have been “bought” as some are so quick to conclude, but because they have been “burnt”. Once you have been at the receiving end, and know what it feels like to be the victim of unfair practices, it is not likely that you will ever forget who the culprit was.
And please don’t even bother to try and weigh the scales of who did the most damage, who fired the most people, who sidelined the most deserving recipients of a promotion to give it to one of the party faithful instead. As we well know, Labour proved itself unable to keep its meritocracy promise, and the PN so far has been careful not to even go there – perhaps it is wiser just not to speak about it all while campaigning because we all know that each administration sweeps the whole country clean and appoints “its” people instead in a perpetual game of musical chairs. So I suggest we drop all the pretence and admit that it will always be the case, because we know that even if a new administration starts off with all the goodwill in the world and wants to avoid appointing people purely based on their politics, its teeming crowds of champing-at-the-bit diehard supporters will metaphorically lynch it rather than let that happen. “It’s our Government, so it’s our turn now”, is a phrase I have heard repeated quite openly over the last four decades.
It’s not only those who have not declared their intentions who are being picked on; AD candidates as well as their support base are being similarly insulted for having the sheer nerve of sticking to their principles and refusing to be swallowed up by the PN. But here’s a novel thought which just came to me: if you want someone to come on board your party bandwagon, perhaps it would be a good idea not to call them names and treat them disrespectfully? I also find it quite funny that suddenly Arnold Cassola and the people who have stuck loyally with him throughout these last 25 years are now being hailed as the only political force which is standing in the way of a probable PN victory. Who knew that those 2000 measly core votes would suddenly be so very, very important?
As for the floating voters who always swing an election, yes there is general agreement that this administration has behaved abysmally when it comes to good governance, and even a lot of Labour supporters have no problem in saying so and are re-thinking their allegiance. But here’s a friendly little tip: saying that only stupid people vote Labour is definitely not the way to get them to vote PN. You would think PN strategists and PR gurus would have more intelligence than to say something like that.
Closed for business
One thing which never fails to baffle me at election time is why the normal day to day business of a country slows down to a snail’s pace. I was even told by a pharmacist that he has seen a downturn in his business while health appointments at a private clinic were being cancelled. So help me out here. Why should a pending election affect your pharmaceutical and beauty needs? Why would you postpone a check-up or important doctor’s appointment because we are going to the polls in a few weeks? Are people sitting in front of their PCs paralyzed with fear and foreboding at the possible outcome (either way) and have been gripped by the inability to spend money or even function normally? Will your health condition be suddenly cured or made worse depending on who wins?
If anyone could unravel this mystery I would be eternally grateful because it has puzzled me for many years.
Finally, a question for the Broadcasting Authority
Why aren’t AD being given a chance to take part in the political debates? Voters have a right to hear the views of all three political parties in the same forum and not separately. This unilateral decision is highly undemocratic and only serves the interest of the PL and PN, who already have more than enough media to get their message across.