Non-strenuous jobs and social housing are the most common demands candidates contesting Saturday’s general election encounter during home visits.
A man in Sliema said he would only vote if his accumulated parking tickets of €3,000 were paid off
Some come across more outrageous requests such as, “can you clear €3,000 in accumulated parking tickets”, “can the government waive my legal separation bills”, and “can you please arrange to have the cats that mill outside my house shifted elsewhere”.
Home visits play a very important part in connecting candidates with their electorate and securing votes, but over the years it has also led to a political system based on clientelism.
The Sunday Times contacted candidates contesting different districts to gauge people’s concerns and found that the majority of voters did not care about the bigger picture – they voted depending on what they could gain and if their petty issues would be resolved.
The candidates acknowledged that voters tended to play them off against each other to get what they wanted; a type of “intimate democracy where if you need anything you go to your candidate”.
“I visited more than 2,500 homes and honestly, if 100 of these mentioned some form of policy it’s a lot. They see everything purely and exclusively from how their microcosm will be affected,” said one candidate, contesting the first district.
Another candidate, from the same district but contesting with an opposing party, agreed: “I visited some 5,000 homes over the past years and I assure you 95 per cent of them are only interested in their personal problems.”
One elderly man, he said, insisted on an urgent appointment or he would throw away his vote. It turned out he was upset because he had a €1 discrepancy in his pension.
The media and politicians may be harping on about oil scandals, electoral manifestos, the economy, energy proposals and free computer tablets, but these failed to feature predominantly inside people’ homes.
“If you have an elderly couple trying to live on €450 a month, these issues become irrelevant,” one candidate said.
Requests differed not only between districts, but also within the same locality. Valletta, Floriana and Marsa were generally similar, and 80 per cent of the requests a candidate faced were jobs and social housing. And not only would they want to, for example, remain in Valletta, but they would not want to move to the Mandraġġ area if they were from the Arċipierku.
Candidates from the first district encountered families whose biggest fear was not having enough money to see them through to the end of the month; people who owed the grocer money and who could not afford to go out for a pizza.
The electorate had huge expectations, and while jobs topped voters’ shopping list of demands, ideally these were not too taxing, and if they could work from home all the better.
“They would want to work as a watchman or a messenger... One woman wanted a job and when I asked if she would be interested in working with the elderly her first question was, ‘but will it be hard work?’ Can you imagine,” said a candidate contesting the eighth district.
The candidates attempt to address these concerns by directing them to the right department, making a phone call here and there to bypass the bureaucracy, helping them fill in forms, or gently telling them their request was impossible to accede to.
Pending applications with the planning authority also featured highly during home visits, especially in Gozo, where it was not uncommon for families to live in illegally built homes without water and electricity.
Instead they siphon the service from their accommodating neighbours.
Candidates also faced requests to fast-track hospital appointments or to get their child admitted into a Church school. A candidate from the 10th district was incredulous to face a man in Sliema who said he would only vote if his accumulated parking tickets of €3,000 were paid off, and a disgruntled voter complaining about pigeon droppings on her shutters.
One new candidate is still stunned by a man’s “tragic” reason for not voting – his public sector office is just too hot.
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