The hoopla and window-dressing of another election campaign are over. Our political process was staged as a media event: the candidates were “packaged” and “handled”, the leadership contest was fought on image and issues were reduced to 30-second clips on the evening news.

Today, the means of communication are instant, sophisticated and available to all.

Yet, real communication – that is, the meaningful discussion of ideas, issues and choices – was largely absent during this campaign. Communication was replaced by slick advertising campaigns and clever debating tricks.

This should profoundly trouble those who know that issues of immense importance were at stake in the political life of our nation.

So a close look at this year’s election campaign should reveal a number of serious problem areas. All is not well within our vaunted democracy.

This campaign was characterised by a shameless display of demagoguery and hypocrisy. It was a cynical exercise in mass manipulation, an insult to the intelligence of thoughtful people and a travesty of democracy.

Politicians were counting on vote-buying and double-speak to succeed at the polls. This perversion of a major democratic process is typical rather than exceptional and it wins elections. Whatever happened to airing and debating meaningful political ideas during elections?

Sadly, elections apparently no longer involve a contest of ideas with significant content but largely concern appearance, style and superficial appeal.

The mass media, especially television, has helped to sensationalise and trivialise politics. It is no longer the integrity of the candidate’s stand but the likability of his television image that is all-important.

The convergence of our two leading political parties shows up in a lack of open and honest debate about meaningful political philosophies and positions. Blandness and posturing risk coming in.

Most political candidates had us believe that their role in forming the government is to make our lives more pleasant, prosperous and problem-free. In this age of materialism and individualism, representatives of both mainline parties outdid each other in offering voters economic prosperity and security with costly spending promises.

In reality, our country is simply piling debt upon debt and ensuring serious difficulties for our children and grandchildren.

Also, with respect to one of the most significant and morally clear-cut issues, namely, the protection of unborn life, neither the Nationalists nor the Labourites took a clear-cut stand in favour of life. This was,  no doubt, due to each party’s desire to win the much-talked-about “women’s vote”. How can this kind of political manipulation be tolerated?

No democracy can long survive such assaults on reality- Mark Said

The exclusive emphasis on rights and immediate gratification of desires has shifted politics from its proper concern to meeting an ever-increasing list of demands and entitlements of a largely economic nature, something that will have disastrous consequences for the future of our country.

Not one political party began with a specific set of principles from which they work out their platform. Rather, they increasingly geared their party’s policies to the simple objective of winning at the polls.

All parties were reluctant to give the voters the bad news. Whenever they did – for example, when one party reminded us that certain spending restraints must be put into effect or that particular social benefits must be made less costly – the rival party was quick to criticise such proposals and to assure the electorate they would do a much better job in providing voters with the goodies.

No democracy can long survive such assaults on reality.

At any rate, the forecast of an easy win for Robert Abela’s Labour Movement is now an undisputed fact. Bernard Grech made some errors of judgement (especially about the timing of the election) and he fared badly against Abela’s crowd-pleasing skills. Grech completely failed to convincingly demonstrate that his “renewed” PN was indeed new. The PN was ambiguous, inconsistent and somewhat unconvincing.

Now that the choice has been made for the next five years, what policies will the new government adopt? Will it govern responsibly and for the genuine welfare of the Maltese people? Will the Abela government have the political will and the courage to make the hard decisions that cannot be put off much longer?

And are the Maltese people really prepared to face reality or will they persist in their desire to live beyond their means?

To my mind, this government will have the following main areas of responsibility: a) maintaining a just legal order; b) safeguarding a responsible fiscal-economic structure, including an adequate infrastructure (transportation, communication, education, etc); and c) providing for an equitable social welfare system (a social safety net).

One thing is sure. If government policies will not come to grips with the increasingly intolerable economic and fiscal reality of Malta, the new government will be abdicating its responsibility.

 

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