Friday 29 September 2023

Let’s remove the drama and mystery surrounding the election date

This column first appeared in Malta Today

I was one of the many people who was very relieved that the idea being floated to hold the general election on 27 November of this year was scrapped.  Who needed an early election after the couple of years we’ve had, when we were just about getting used to a semblance of normality? 

Elections always disrupt our daily lives as campaigning takes over and it becomes very difficult to escape the intensive blitz of propaganda from all sides. I doubt anyone was really in the mood for it, and when the ominous signs that politicians had started campaigning began, it just filled me with dismay and every pamphlet found in our letter box was thrown with gusto into the recycling bin. (Which reminds me, can politicians please stop printing these flyers? Trust me, it’s a waste of paper, they are absolutely useless and no one is going to vote for you based on a cheesy, glossy photo.)  

There is also another aspect to the early election rumours which I couldn’t understand – why was the Labour Party, which was so clearly in the lead, going to open itself up to yet more accusations of never having finished a full five year term?  Alfred Sant’s administration will forever be bashed for only lasting 22 months and Joseph Muscat’s first term only lasted 4 years, 3 months.  In my view, Robert Abela who took over as Prime Minister in 2020 when Muscat was forced to resign, should stay the course, and ride the whole term out, even just as a point of principle. He could then call the election in May/June of next year, rounding off this second term of the Labour Government neatly into five full years. Some argued that Abela was worried about the gap between the two parties narrowing, but my only reaction to that is… seriously?  

Which brings me to another point: I really think that the prerogative of the PM to call an election whenever he wants should be removed (unless there is a vote of no confidence in Parliament, which would leave him no choice but to call an early election).  We go through this every time, with the country gripped by uncertainty as everyone tries to guess what date is in the PM’s head, as if we were guessing the Super 5 numbers. For some reason I have never understood why “għax ġejja l-elezzjoni” (because an election is coming) is used as an excuse for everything to grind to a halt, from ordering furniture to setting a wedding date to obtaining some important document from a Government department. 

This love of mystery and drama surrounding the election date is all very silly, and needs to stop. There should be a set date which is adhered to every five years and that’s it.  

Will the real Nationalist Party please stand up?

Like all op-ed columnists, I have been following the rollercoaster ride of the Nationalist Party’s troubles for some time now. The cracks were already showing in 2008 with Gonzi at the helm, but were papered over cosmetically only to become very deep wide chasms following Joseph Muscat’s landslide victory against Simon Busuttil in 2013. Somehow the PN managed to cobble itself together to challenge Muscat again in 2017 but at the time, and despite all the turmoil and accusations, the electorate still preferred Labour.  

It was during 2017, which would turn out to be one of Malta’s most memorable years in more ways than one, that the Nationalist Party split itself wide open into two factions which to date have never managed to find a common ground. The Adrian Delia vs Simon Busuttil have never reconciled, despite the fact that neither of these two men are in the leadership position any more.

Today, Bernard Grech leads the PN so the infighting (based, I am convinced, mostly on social class) which characterised the party during the Delia tenure has simmered down, and yet the obvious divergence is still there for all who want to see.  The essential dilemma facing the party is: what does the PN stand for these days?  At its core the PN is a right-wing Conservative party, and as I have written before, there is nothing wrong with that because there is still a strong conservative voting base on the island which wants and needs to be represented.  However it has always mystified me how people whose mindset is more liberal on a variety of issues (from women’s reproductive rights, to divorce to legalising marijuana) still feel that the PN is their natural ‘home’ and that the PN should change its fundamental principles to accommodate them. 

No wonder Grech tied himself up in knots recently, changing his tune in a number of knee-jerk reactions on liberal issues which reminded me of the “yeah but, no but, yeah but” refrain immortalised by Vicky Pollard in Little Britain.   A leader needs to take a stand, make sure his people are all on the same page and communicate that stand clearly and firmly to his supporters…dithering back and forth does not a good leader make. 

The reason for the current division within the PN may be found in the fact that there is a clear generational shift between parents (staunchly Church/convent school educated, who fought Labour during the turbulent 80s) and their children under 30 (educated at the more secular, independent schools).  While the latter still identify themselves as Nationalists because they grew up in households which cannot ever imagine voting Labour, their ideology jars completely with what the PN actually stands for.  

The way I see it, a party espousing liberal views which advocates for social justice and environmental causes should have taken root in Malta by now,  bringing together those who do not feel comfortable with the PN’s conservatism any more but who cannot align themselves with Labour because it has caused too much damage to the country and has veered too far away from its left-wing roots. Alternattiiva Demokratika had a chance for a while, but it was muscled out of the picture with grim determination by the big guns.  And if the PN had actually split in 2017, I believe a new party would have made been a breath of fresh air and made some headway by now. 

So as things stand, there is a glaring lacuna in the Maltese political landscape which is begging to be filled, and unfortunately, this means the choices before the electorate remain the same as they have always been.

A one man promotional campaign 

This week I came across a YouTube channel by a young man who is single-handedly doing more to promote Malta’s image than most people whose job it is to do so. Alex Vasilevski is originally from Macedonia and has taken it upon himself to go around the island to discover new places,interview those who have come to live here and in one instance, even recommend the best places to shop to get value for your money.

I love his positive attitude, his respectfulness towards Malta and the way he charms everyone he speaks to.  Although we are highly aware that so many things in our country are cringeworthy, make us want to cry and exasperate/infuriate us in equal measure, I have to admit that it does get depressing to see expats pointing all this out to us continuously and bashing Malta at every opportunity. We know! We know! There is definitely a vast room for improvement but on the other hand, this is our little island and we are very protective of it, much like anyone would become very defensive about their homeland if it is constantly criticised and sneered at. 

Alex’s interviews with foreign nationals in which he asked them why they decided to relocate to Malta was particularly fascinating, as it provided a peak into the multiculturalism which has taken root in our country.  I believe these type of interviews can also help to shatter a lot of stereotypes, prejudice and xenophobia, opening minds to the realisation that, after all, people from other lands are ordinary people, trying to get by, just like us.

So thank you Alex, you make a refreshing change from all the negative onslaught and your unique perspective on Malta perhaps just might also make us stop moaning and appreciate what we have again.  

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