Saturday 22 June 2024

Empty seats, student apathy and some ridiculous candidates – welcome to the MEP elections

This column first appeared in Malta Today

In most countries, student activism is a healthy barometer of how the young generation feels about current events.

Unfortunately, except for a certain period of time during the turbulent 80s, this has never really been the case in Malta. Since that decade, the protests have mostly revolved around issues which directly affect students’ way of life, such as their stipends and their parking. As if to prove this point, a debate organised on Thursday by the KSU, Lovin Malta and MaltaToday saw eight MEP candidates from different political ideologies debating in front of mostly empty seats.

Despite lectures being suspended in lieu of the debate, only a couple dozen of students bothered to show up. The level of interest among the student population in these elections for the European Parliament is clearly hovering near zero. Of course it doesn’t help matters that there are a number of candidates who are turning the whole thing into a joke – and no, I am not talking about comedian James Ryder, because at least he has no pretensions about why he is contesting.

I read the headline from one of his interviews, “Unlike other politicians I have the decency to realise I am a clown” and I immediately liked the guy. We need more people with this type of refreshing self-awareness and self-deprecation. “I will take it seriously. I will not ridicule my candidature, or the candidates, I am ridiculing the system. People who are ready to vote for me, are fed up with the system. We are living within a screwed-up system, and the numbers show this,” he says. “I have always delivered my message using comedy, and that is what I will be doing: playing to my strengths.”
Frankly, a comedian who is not full of himself and who does not take himself too seriously is exactly what we need. He wants to make a difference and that can only be a good thing. In contrast, as I read through the rest of the independent and small party candidates, I just rolled my eyes at some of the names. Zaren Tal-Ajkla is giving it yet another shot for the eighth time ( “bless his heart” as they say in the South) …for reasons only he can explain. He is mercilessly ridiculed every time he contests by people who take pleasure in that kind of thing, which I find very cruel.
Then we have Adrian Zammit – the one who makes rambling TikTok videos about current events from his kitchen in a loud, gruff voice, wearing shorts and a string vest, accompanied by his dog. Do I sound like the worst kind of insufferable snob? Well when it comes to who I want to represent our country at the European Parliament, I would rather have someone who is articulate and knows what he is talking about, thank you very much – so I guess, yes, that makes me a snob
Simon Mercieca, a history professor, who has written some of the most bizarre, outlandish claims in his weekly column, is another contender. He had alleged that the Curia was fast-tracked Jason Azzopardi’s annulment, among other things, all of which the Archdiocese of Malta refuted as inaccurate and untrue.  He has also been sued several times by other people for things he has written in his column. If he is going to be voicing the same kind of wild, unfounded statements at EP level, I think we can all do without that kind of drama.
Ivan Grech Mintoff is the leader of the ABBA party, and his contribution is apparently going to be a series of egg throwing stunts. A few weeks ago, he threw an egg at the feet of the Prime Minister and during the University debate he also threw an egg and then exited in a huff. What is it with all these eggs? Maybe he has a chicken coop in his backyard.
And finally, but also predictably, we have the notorious Norman Lowell who, despite having a police record (in 2008, he was handed a suspended sentence for inciting racial hatred), is still apparently allowed to contest. With his anti-immigration rhetoric he is Malta’s version of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage rolled into one, and if the current national mood is anything to go by, he will probably get thousands of votes.
I imagine it will not be easy for the serious candidates to have to be seen on the same platform as those who are, let’s face it, more of a sideshow. It will take a considerable amount of self-control and discipline to avoid the whole campaign from turning into just one big farce.
Don’t get me wrong – it is good to see so many independent and small party candidates which far outnumber the candidates for the PL (9) and the PN (8). A record number of 13 people are running as independents, with another 9 coming from the small parties. That makes the candidates’ list much more interesting, democratic and healthy especially since for the MEP elections, Malta is considered as one district.
The question now will be whether the electorate is actually going to bother to go out and vote. Many look at the six seats at the Euro Parliament as just another cushy gravy train – which let’s face it, it is. This perception is reinforced by the fact that so many have thrown their hat in the ring, leading to plenty of humour on social media about everyone wanting to become an MEP these days. There will be those who will vote for the decidedly odd, unsuitable candidates purely as a joke, and many will abstain because they see the entire concept of the EU as a waste of time and they want no part of it. There is already the general sentiment of “x’jimpurtani” (what do I care?) as can be evidenced by the lack of attendance at that first debate.
In a world where TikTok videos and memes get the most prominence it will take quite an effort to capture the public’s imagination and get them interested in this election. Sometimes it will be inadvertently funny moments such as with Arnold Cassola’s faux pas, which was a genuine slip of the tongue at the above-mentioned debate when instead of “kemm ħalaq Alla”, he uttered a swear word instead. He has since issued an apology about this gaffe.
As the countdown begins towards 8 June, the verdict will be in the hands of those who do care, and who are invested in choosing the very best people to represent Malta. Hopefully there are enough of those voters to sift through the 39 candidates who are contesting so that we do not end up with one of Ivan Grech Mintoff’s eggs on our faces.