There was something eerily familiar in Joe Debono Grech’s candid statement during a rally in Gozo held last Friday at the warm behest of Clint Camilleri, feudal lord of the “sister island”.

“People say that all [politicians] are corrupt. And they’re right. But we got nothing out of their corruption. At least we gained something out of ours. We are with the Good Thief.”

It’s a bootleg of Bettino Craxi’s implosion in front of the Italian parliament that, yes, the system is corrupt but we’ve all got our hands unclean. But Debono Grech wasn’t remotely trying to apologise; to him, that Labour is corrupt, maybe among a wider circle than the “enemy”, is the certainty of progress.

Of course, timing turns this phrase tragic. Debono Grech was possibly unaware that, on the same day, the Planning Authority gave its blessing to another of Joe Portelli’s monsters, right on the edge of the cliffs in Sannat. The ruse was indeed magnificent: the Planning Commission had said it will “seek guidance” from the Executive Council, a body which has no competence on such matters. The permit was obviously issued.

So, can we count Portelli as a Good Thief?

Later that night, Labour would unveil its electoral manifesto. There’s the tested mix of incentives and fiscal gymnastics, the not infrequent shiver to the spine, commitments to the IIP… and “compensatory” promises to improve the environment and quality of life.

These promises cannot be taken seriously when – on the same day – the Planning Authority pulls a backhand to appease Sir Robin Good of Nadur. Similarly, they cannot be taken seriously at the back of 16 years of disastrous planning policies, unfettered development and very visible Thievery Corporations lurking around our public land and coast.

The invasion of Ukraine has put a dampener on our election campaign, which feels much more sombre, perhaps fatigued, largely mirroring the uninspiring main actors. Sadly, the basic hypocrisy that underpins much of our politics has seen the war deflect attention from the very national issues that should be discussed by those who want to represent us.

The C word, for example, has been banned throughout the campaign. If the unrepresentative debate held at the university last week served to stir waters on taboos like abortion and euthanasia, no mention has been made of construction in this campaign.

Labour did include a number of measures inspired by Moviment Graffitti’s proposals for the sector but there are no coherent moves to regulate the industry. The day-to-day assault on our quality of life will go on unabated, possibly ramping up a notch or two after the election.

In the meantime, the opposition perseveres in half-baked and tone-deaf proposals and statements, peppered with the odd inaccuracy. They’re far from defeating a divided Labour, bloated and wrinkled by nine years of enormous power, during which a journalist was murdered for her work.

Meantime, the PN has spent more time and energy fighting the cannabis reform than it did fighting the marina, blundered on IVF, pandered to the no-vax and proposed a one-stop-shop for developers in a hurry.

If you have to vote, don’t vote for thieves- Wayne Flask

Their counterproposal to Abela’s metro involves the widening of more roads, already a gaping wound among the electorate. No effort to change cultures and reduce car usage: the importers’ lobby is another list of big names, which will someday come in handy.

Bernard Grech, meanwhile, is happy strutting his impression of an overfed, overdressed Lionel Messi on football pitches built for students, now battlefields for politicians looking to secure the 16+ vote. If Labour was accused of style over substance as far back as 2013, marketing has become the main driver of Grech’s campaign, with sometimes shallow attempts at riding the waves of war for sympathy.

For all the worry about the rising prices of bread, nobody’s talking about securing Malta’s food supply or decisively ending the ulterior loss of agricultural land.

Despite the confessionals’ charm offensives, the surveys indicate that it’s a race between Good Thieves. Labour’s favourite pollster, Vincent Marmarà, had initially indicated a 40,000 margin before correcting his mark: similarly to MaltaToday’s analysis, abstentionism will increase, denting Abela’s leadership. Despite taking up a huge share of the 16+ votes, a lower turnout will see PL land a majority of between 25,000 and 30,000.

Abela didn’t mess with the semantics: he asked students “not to abstain” from trusting in him, part of his wider, self-centred effort to erase the legacy of a wounded Joseph Muscat at the polls.

It’s too late and too presumptuous for Labour to regain the trust of prodigal voters, some of whom saw in the party a progressive force for civil liberties but didn’t expect the Good Thieves or the kitchen cabinet. Others felt hurt by a party for which they militated, hijacked by a new generation of arrogant young men in tight suits, including former top brass under investigation.

Voters are justified in thinking voting is not a duty but a right; and their right to choose who to represent them is hampered by a Jurassic electoral system that favours nepotism and makes electable third parties a fantasy.

Some feel that none of the names on any ballot can represent their interests: voters who aren’t in any lobby but taxpaying citizens whose quality of life has directly been threatened by power and scantly defended by those “opposing” it.

The PLPN manifestos are anthems to abstentionism: we should beware not only of their expensive contents but of their glaring omissions.

It’s the missing specific commitments in those manifestos, such as those to reform planning, that have allowed the League of Good Thieves to fester because this band of merry people has momentum with some of the ‘Bad’ Thieves.

Episodes such as Friday’s verdict on Sannat, with the PN looking elsewhere, are agents for cynicism.

If you have to vote, don’t vote for thieves. Vote against the greed and bigotry of those who want to curtail your quality of life and your civil liberties.

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