The writing was on the wall and as opinion polls predicted, last Saturday the Labour Party (PL) won a landslide victory whereas the Nationalist Party (PN) had a re-run of its poor showing in 2004.

That gives the PL three out of five seats, with a possible stake on the sixth seat too.

What does all this mean? Three points come to mind.

Firstly, that the electorate registered a strong protest vote at the government. That message is as clear as it was expected.

Let's face it, few governments are popular one year after taking office when the implementation of their reform programme is still at a stage where it is causing pain with little sign of the gain. This unpopularity was compounded by the wider context of global recession, which is also affecting us in terms of job losses.

This does not necessarily mean that the government's direction is wrong. I believe that it is not.

But it does mean that the government needs to fine-tune its reform programme to make the pain less unbearable on those who are most in need. And it does mean that the government needs to refine its attitude, discarding any sign of insensitivity and arrogance. If people are going to be asked to make a sacrifice for the wider good, then the least we can do is to better explain why reform is necessary and not remain indifferent to their hurt.

And there are areas where the government can do more to deliver simple things that make no difference to the wider scheme of things but that make a great deal of difference to the lives of the individuals concerned.

During the campaign, I came across innumerable people who had complaints which, on examination, seemed justified and not impossible to redress. Yet, when approaching ministries and government departments, these people found no solace, still less a remedy.

I would have thought that we should have learnt this lesson by now but clearly, the system is not yet working efficiently to settle these issues. This is not to say that all complaints are justified.

Far from it.

Indeed, if there is one thing that shook me during the campaign, it must be that many people still see the right to vote as an opportunity to undue exert pressure on politicians to give them what they want, regardless of whether they are entitled to it or not.

One family refused to vote because their son failed his driving test and blamed the government. I find this shocking as it is nothing short of blackmail. It also lands politicians who oblige in serious trouble soon after the vote.

Let me come to my second observation.

There is no doubt that the PL - and Joseph Muscat personally - scored a handsome victory and I congratulate them. Yet, I am less impressed at how they achieved it and I still see little substance behind their glitzy image.

Just think about it. The PL capitalised massively on popular discontent on issues ranging from electricity bills to hunting and from car tax to public health. Yet, it offered no alternative solutions and when it did, the proposals were shallow.

Take electricity bills. Labour cashed in on public anger over the bills and voters may not be blamed for thinking that their newly-elected Labour MEPs will now reduce the bills. But, of course, MEPs have no such power. Which leaves Labour with its votes but the people with their bills.

Or take the car registration saga. Labour raked thousands of votes on this issue. But, in doing so, it wrongly committed itself to paying the refund even if it lost the court case. This means that, if Labour is elected into office in four years' time, it will turn on you as a taxpayer to foot the bill for its ill-conceived multi-million euro commitment.

So the way that Labour cashed in on popular discontent tells me that, in reality, Labour is more interested in the votes than in the solutions. And it stands firmly on the side of those who resist change rather than those who want it, even if the change is necessary. In this context, I still see little meaning behind Labour's "moderate" and "progressive" fancy labels.

Thirdly, last Saturday confirmed that the political system in post-independence Malta is essentially a bi-party system. This means that if people are fed up with the PN, they will not go to smaller parties. They will just migrate to Labour. And vice-versa.

Last Saturday, small parties were all but squeezed out and this confirms my thinking that, in this country, if you want to influence things, you can only do so by joining one of the large parties, perhaps changing them from within, rather than trying to change the system from outside.

One may well resent this reality but that is how it is and that is how voters want it. As I see it, the country would have benefitted more from the abilities of people like Arnold Cassola, Stephen Cachia and Michael Briguglio if they militated in the bigger parties and I hope that my own party can reach out to them sooner rather than later.

That leaves one final point, namely my personal result at last Saturday's poll, which totalled 68,782 votes.

It is difficult for me to find the right words to express my gratitude at having been re-elected in such a resounding manner. Let me just say that I am deeply touched by the scale of this result and that I am fully aware that it places on me an even greater responsibility in terms of what people expect of me as their representative in the European Parliament.

I am very thankful to all those who placed their trust in me and I am firmly committed to work as hard as I can, and even more, in order to repay this trust.

Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.

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