European elections, even in Malta, attract somewhat less keen interest and lower participation than national elections. Local elections even less. The stakes are perceived to be lower, certainly for that substantial minority who are as keen about their party winning at every opportunity as the average resident of Kerċem is consumed with passion about which harbour town wins this year’s September regatta.

For a chunk of voters who would have typically in the past voted PN, there are reasons other than apathy or indifference that have given them reason to wonder whether this should be the time they stay home. Not voting out of indifference is not quite the same as not voting out of choice. Though the effect is indistinguishable.

I have spent years campaigning for the PN, exhorting those who threaten to abstain with the handbook reasons why you should always vote. And yet, I confess, the silence of the god of hope and inspiration has cast me in deep doubts about my vocation as a participating citizen of a democracy.

Let’s think this through.

And let’s start with local elections. For everyone except the most intimately involved – typically party activists working throughout the political season in party constituency offices or for their local incumbent or aspiring MP – local councils are nowhere near their priority list.

Successive governments are to blame for this and their motivation is a greedy hoarding of petty transactional currency they need to get re-elected.

As with many things that go sour with time, local councils were a noble idea to start with. Devolving the micro-management of the community from the national administration removes the need to go to the ‘Ministru tad-Distrett’ to get a pavement repaired or a shop permit upgraded. Democratisation at the local level also increases citizen participation, giving responsibilities to community leaders and liberating national politics to focus on the big issues and plan for the future.

It started out so well. The 1990s witnessed a demonstrable transformation of village cores and a boom in secular village life.

But already during later Nationalist administrations, enthusiasm for the idea of stripping parliamentary candidates (especially incumbent ministers) of the power to exchange voting commitments with quick fixes like a new street light and a spruced up pavement for the church parvis started to be sorely missed. If the minister no longer has the authority to ‘fix’ your problem, what’s the point of waiting in line at their office to kiss their hand?

The PN barely even considered the natural next step for local democracy: granting local councils the power to autonomously raise local taxes to provide local services accountable only to their citizens rather than to Valletta that holds their purse strings.

When Labour took over, that failure to grant proper local autonomy was exploited like all the weaknesses in our system that are usually compensated by Nationalist governments with old fashioned gentlemanly restraint.

When a row of tanks rolls over Tiananmen Square, I want to be the guy standing alone with his grocery shopping and a plastic bag

Labour tightened its fists on funding of local councils, inhibiting their ability to act independently of ministers’ whims. They blatantly discriminated against PN-led councils, reversing the politically neutral attitude of PN administrations towards local councils that often meant disproportionately enthusiastic support by the central government to Labour mayors as a consequence of a determination to be seen to be fair.

And Labour shuffled the electoral calendar, reducing engagement of councils with voters to make sure nothing is in the way of their – the central party’s – totalitarian relationship with voters.

We’re at a point now where even the most committed participants in democratic life wonder what the point of local councils is beyond providing a little bit of exposure to aspiring MPs.

That point is the point when we no longer have local democracy and no one seems to mind. We have squandered the opportunity to reduce clientelism, clip the depressingly transactional nature of our politics and increase citizen participation in the running of their own affairs. And what do we get instead? Small-time party apparatchiks who pretend to be interested in the collection times of our rubbish in order to have a State-funded constituency office for the parliamentary candidate they work for.

They want to do the same for European elections. All this talk about not choosing traitors to the EP is nothing but a moral brow beat to channel us all into voting in MEPs who, like local councillors, are nothing but an extension of the will and authority of Castille.

It helps to understand why we got to have a European Parliament and European elections in the first place. The alien that snatched the body of Martin Scicluna and now walks around impersonating him wrote last Thursday “our six representatives are not sent to Brussels or Strasbourg to drag Malta’s name through the dirt but to represent the Maltese position”.

Not that it needs clarification, but what he means by “Maltese position” is the position determined by Castille and any deviation from that is what he means by dirt.

If he were right, why do we get to have EP elections at all? Why doesn’t the government pick our MEPs as they pick our Ambassador in Brussels? The latter is clearly meant to represent ‘the Maltese position’. Are MEPs supposed to duplicate this?

Of course not. MEPs are the opportunity for us as citizens to get to have direct engagement with European institutions as European citizens without the intermediation of the government in Valletta, that has political interests that may (indeed are) not identical to those of every citizen of the country.

They want to kill that too, reducing all electoral ballots happening in this country as repeated confirmations of their insurmountable, unassailable authority.

I think of that and I am reminded of my smallness as a single, individual voter facing this behemoth, this irrepressible leviathan. What difference can my vote make?

I have no illusions about the extent of influence of my individual vote. Having said that, you have to wonder why the Labour Party is so keen to argue for the limitation on its use. The Single Transferable Vote (alternative voting in contemporary parlance) gives us that little bit of an edge over other voters in the rest of Europe faced by a party list determined by political parties.

We can rank candidates in order of our preference. Scicluna would have us leave out ‘the traitors’ while the few who speak for us without waiting for the permission of Joseph Muscat are precisely what the country most desperately needs. I could tell Scicluna that if he intends to vote Labour (if?) he could consider omitting the convicted pornographer, or the dinosaur whose pathologically rabid hatred of the European project, not to mention Malta’s participation in it, almost cost us the right to vote in the upcoming ballot.

The Nationalist Party is also trying to exploit our vote in ways that are unrelated to the choice of MEPs. Many of those voters who feel they have no choice but to stay home on election day, want to avoid the sight of the PN leadership gloating on the back of votes for candidates that are voted for in spite of being on the PN list rather than because of that.

There are reasons why parties don’t get to choose. We do. We choose candidates we prefer and leave out those we do not want. We can transfer votes across party lines without having our guilt toyed with for flirting with political instability or uncertainty of governance. In other words, we can choose.

Our lonely, single vote is not much against the overwhelming power of Joseph Muscat’s hegemony. But when a row of tanks rolls over Tiananmen Square, I want to be the guy standing alone with his grocery shopping and a plastic bag.

Given the choice between choosing or not choosing, limited as the impact of that choice admittedly is, I choose to choose.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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