Monday 24 January 2022

Election time for a drama queen nation

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

This is not to make light of the election; I realise there is a lot at stake, and that whichever way it goes there are going to be serious repercussions one way or the other. Personally, I would have preferred the magisterial inquiry which is looking into very damaging allegations against Michelle Muscat to have been concluded before Muscat called a snap election.

So, I think everyone will agree that the 2017 election is going to go down in history books as a turning point – but then, hasn’t every election been like that, really? I don’t remember any campaign which wasn’t fraught with anxiety, tension and partisan bickering. Which is why I cannot understand why there was this collective meltdown on Monday evening when the date of 3 June was announced.

The reasons for all the drama about the date chosen included the fact that it clashes with the Champions’ League, Earth Garden and school exams. Then we had the usual handwringing about people getting married on that day, children doing their Holy Communion and all sorts of other calamities.

I don’t get all this fuss: on election day you go and vote (or not), then go back home, or continue with your errands. Weddings will definitely not be disrupted on the day, although 4th June when the results come out might get a bit heated if talk turns to politics at a wedding reception (in which case the couple might ask their guests to be respectful and just not talk politics for this one night). The same goes with Holy Communion celebrations – surely people can restrain themselves and talk about other things just this once?

Earth Garden will be a much-needed distraction for many, especially since my guess is that those who attend this event are just not that politically fanatic anyway. The crowds which it attracts tend to be ‘alternative’ and laid-back and the last thing they really care about is staying at home to watch those grey boxes s-l-o-o-w-ly being carried into the counting all and the votes being painstakingly sorted one by one. They would prefer to leave that kind of thrilling excitement to those who will be eventually banging with heavy hands on the perspex.

As for the football, again, no results will be out on 3 June, so fans will just have to argue over their favourite teams instead.

Which brings me to the objection I least understand – that the campaign and the election have coincided with student exams. Apparently, I was told, children won’t be able to study with all the tension and excitement. For a start, if parents see that their political talk is creating unnecessary tension at home, they can take the mature route and just steer clear of the topic in front of the kids to maintain a peaceful atmosphere. After all, shouldn’t their children come before politics?

Secondly, just how precious and sensitive have today’s kids become? We have all done exams, and there is always something going on in the country. I find all this mollycoddling and over-protectiveness very tiring. Heck, if need be, buy them a set of headphones. Those who want to study will study, those who are easily distracted are easily distracted by everything, including the numerous distractions available on their PC or smartphone.

It is perfectly possible to “switch off” from the campaign you know. No one is forcing you listen to the TV debates, or read the papers, or pour over every single comment or post online and take offence at what the other side is claiming. If the parents don’t feed into it (for the benefit of their children) then their offspring won’t either. Of course, there will always be talk at school among students themselves, but that has always happened as far back as I can remember.

The only reasonable argument I saw was that, since polling booths are set up at primary schools, this might interfere with the smooth running of the various classrooms on the days running up to the election. But again, I was told this has happened before and everyone has survived the inconvenience.

Basically, an election campaign and the election day itself do not have to be such a drama. It’s just a part of the cycle of every administration, and there is no need for the country to grind to a standstill. Or to put it another way, an election can be as much of a drama as we want it to be.

Since the election date was announced, I have noticed a lot of FB pronouncements to the effect that people are “unfollowing” or “unfriending” others on their list, which is pretty sad if you think about it. I mean OK, some people do sound like propaganda machines or paid spin doctors for their party, but are politics really something you want to get in the way of friendships and family? Are you really going to let different political opinions ruin your social life or relationships? And doesn’t it make for a boring world to only interact with those who think and act exactly like you? Politicians want these “two tribes to go to war”, because it serves their interest to divide everyone into “us” and “them”.

But that is no way for us to live.

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