Voters who are attracted to smaller parties may face difficult choices in Maltese general elections. Should they vote for a small party which reflects their beliefs, or should they vote for one of the two large parties?

Voting for the former will most probably not result in parliamentary election. It can also assist the large party which is furthest from one’s beliefs. And voting for a large party can help it win the election but can eventually result in disappointment if it betrays promises close to the voter’s heart.

Examples of the latter include Labour’s promises of meritocracy and good governance before the 2013 election. Very few analytical voters would dispute that Labour has failed miserably in this regard.

On the other hand, Labour’s promises to certain lobbies and interest groups have borne fruit. These cross ideological lines and include the hunting lobby, big business, the construction industry and the LGBTIQ movement among others.

In many instances, Labour has also capitalised on the sectarianism and lack of cross-interest alliances in Maltese civil society. For example, Malta’s LGBTIQ movement has various progressive aims and has impressively constructed a united front on related issues. But the same movement has not actively supported other progressive causes in Malta, such as environmentalism and anti-poverty.

Thus, voters who may have beliefs which are closer to the Green Party may have voted Labour in 2013 as they knew that their aspirations were more likely to be achieved this way. Today, some are rather satisfied with Labour’s reforms in related areas such as civil rights and social policy. But others are terribly disappointed when they consider the overall style of Labour governance.

The latter may consequently form part of the sizeable minority of voters who are expressing lack of trust towards both major political parties. Whether they will abstain from voting, invalidate their vote, vote for a small party or end up voting for a large party can never be fully captured in advance by surveys.

The only viable hope to remove the oligarchy orchestrating Malta’s bad governance is to unite parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles into a common will

Perhaps a cross-party, pre-electoral coalition – with different party candidates on the same list – may offer the best of both worlds if formulated properly. It would comprise smaller parties who are closer to such voters’ beliefs, and it would also dispel the ‘wasted vote’ threat.

And this takes me to a very important consideration for Malta today: equivalence.

Should the Labour and Nationalist parties be seen as equivalent? Do their respective mass party structures make them identical? Or are there key differences between them?

Here I am not only referring to ideology and issue proposals. Indeed, one party may be more to the left than the other on certain issues, and less liberal on others.

What I am referring to is style of governance. Particularly when it comes to controversial decisions, allegations of corruption, long-term societal implications and so forth.

Voters may not cite governance as the most important issue in surveys, yet its implications can be universally applicable across various sectors. For example, corruption can have negative implications in economic and environmental terms.

Labour is playing a cynical yet effective game in this regard. Whenever the government is in trouble on matters such as corruption, its media strategists and allies use trump cards by blowing up comparatively minor issues that embarrass the Nationalist Party.

The Labour media strategy thus aims to increase disillusion with the entire political system, so that the voters Labour risks losing do not vote blue. Small parties and civil society are thus seen as useful bait by Labour and its allies: small party criticism and differences with the PN are amplified, but talk which does not sound good to Labour may be obscured or distorted.

The hard truth remains, however, that as things stand, the only viable hope to remove the oligarchy which is orchestrating Malta’s bad governance is to unite parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles into a common will. Here, the bigger picture would come before sectarianism and cannibalisation.

Alternatively one can hope for Malta’s political system to implode and face a radical rupture. But this can never be predicted. Nor can its outcomes in terms of political victors and governing outcomes.

Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.

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