As political uncertainty looms large, and as local current events unfold, I cannot resist commenting on the impact of partisanship on our country’s destiny.
Sadly, we are crippled by a two-party system that has made objective commentary almost impossible. Any criticism of the government of the day is shot down as bias and interpreted as blind support for the opposition. This happens irrespective of which party is in power.
Herbert Ganado referred to this in his magnum opus, Rajt Malta Tinbiddel. He regretted that, had the Nationalists not torpedoed the viability of smaller political parties, voters who disagreed with the party in government would not be faced with the Hobson’s choice of having to vote for the only other viable political party in opposition.
Although Malta’s electoral system is definitely superior to many others, empowering voters to choose the politicians they want and even allowing voting across party lines, the smaller parties are de facto denied the possibility of garnering any seats in parliament.
Not surprisingly, both main parties, that never seem to agree on anything, are very happy to maintain the status quo and unjustly deny any possibility of a smaller party raising its head. This discriminates against the value of each vote. A third party might have kept in check certain excesses by the party in government. Also, the wider the choice, the more a ruling party would have to behave correctly.
However, at the end of the day, no system will ever be foolproof as life is much more complex than meets the eye. A sound democracy cannot prevail where there is ignorance and responsible citizenship is conspicuous by its absence.
As Winston Churchill so famously quipped: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Sadly, this is often quite true. Too many people have a colour blind view of history, exaggerating their party’s positive points and their opponent’s negative ones. Worse still, many voters, too often encouraged by populist politicians, seek only their narrow interests and advantage.
The main political parties were once identified by clear ideologies. The Nationalists proposed politics based on Christian Democratic values while the Labour Party was more left wing and influenced by socialism. In earlier times, the area you came from and the type of employment you had determined how you would vote. Politics was tribalistic.
To quite an extent, this still exists today, even among more educated people. Too many of us seem unable to recognise any good in those one opposes politically and cannot accept that their own party has done any wrong.
The attitude of defending one’s party at all costs has led to corruption being overlooked and left to spiral out of control. Loyal political supporters should try to be objective and demand that their own party rectify matters when necessary. They would otherwise be doing a great disservice to their party and the country.
A sound democracy cannot prevail where there is ignorance- Klaus Vella Bardon
Sadly, staying in power at all costs seems to trump every other consideration. Besides being informed, the voter must be honest enough to decide which politicians have the integrity to place the common good above narrow and short-term party interests. Politics influences our country, our lives and that of future generations. To dismiss politics as too dirty to be involved in and abdicate such a grave responsibility is to leave the arena to the corrupt and the unscrupulous.
Over the years, matters have changed, but the hard core base of blind voters in the Labour camp still remains larger than that of the Nationalist Party. I remember visiting an old lady who spent her life working as a maid. She was an excellent, upright person and lived most frugally on her very limited income. Whenever I popped in to see her, her little radio blared out Super One propaganda. She always pleaded with me to be careful not to change the channel when lowering the sound as she might not be able to retrace it.
It is therefore not surprising that under-educated people, fed on a diet of propaganda, day in and day out, would not be able to question the performance of their party. To a certain extent, this situation exists with both major political parties.
I find it most objectionable when the loyalty of the less privileged is exploited and abused. This often leads to the toxic adulation, if not outright idolatry, of politicians.
We are all fashioned by our genes and personal history. I was brought up in an apolitical environment and, at the time, wrongly felt proud that I had no partisan allegiance. My maternal grandfather was pro-British and a dyed-in-wool supporter of Lord Strickland, for which he was unjustly treated by a subsequent Nationalist government of the time.
My father, on the other hand, did not profess partisan allegiance. Like most medical men of his era, he was committed to his profession, especially in his service to the more disadvantaged. Yet, there was never any doubt about his faith in God, loyalty to Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church. This sensitised me to the importance of fundamental values that transcend any partisan divide.
More than ever before, politics must be given a favourable image. With the introduction of 16-year-old voters, it is crucial that they are given a balanced portrayal of Malta’s recent political history and, above all, taught civic responsibility. This should be a mandatory subject in the last years of school.
Finally, as for myself, I firmly believe that the clash between political parties is a reality and a healthy necessity. Ideally, it should lead to the promotion of the common good. For, at the end of the day, what really matters is not so much who is in government but that the political parties strive for what is best for the country.
Only this will, in large measure, ensure that our country will prosper and corruption will be held in check.
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