The only unknown in Saturday’s general election is the margin of Labour’s victory. And if our survey is anything to go by, the country is heading towards a third PL landslide.
There are different reasons why Malta will wake up to the sound of Labour supporters’ carcades today week.
Over the last nine years, Labour handled the economy relatively well with impressive growth and low unemployment. In the last few years it even rediscovered some of its social soul.
Robert Abela’s government handled the pandemic well, prioritising health and making sure businesses remained afloat. We saw new overdue road infrastructure, even if that often came at the expense of the environment and farmers.
Abela has tried, to a certain extent, to clear up his predecessor’s shameful legacy even if the culling has not been completed.
Clearly, many would choose to retain the incumbent, especially with the spectre of war in Europe and all the hardship and economic turbulences associated with it. In other words – better the devil you know.
Ultimately, what matters to most is that the Labour government put money in their pockets. But at what cost?
In most countries, a government would be booted out if it allowed unprecedented levels of corruption, undermined democratic institutions and led to an embarrassing greylisting.
We are heading towards an election with many unknowns
In most countries, a government would be booted out if a public inquiry held it responsible for creating a climate which led to the assassination and subsequent cover-up of a journalist. In most countries, a government would be booted out if it facilitated the destruction of the environment, institutionalised nepotism and political patronage and got caught in the act repeatedly and flagrantly.
The Labour government rewarded the party’s associates, supporters and their families with lucrative jobs they should never have been entitled to. Businessmen were rewarded with direct orders for their party loyalty. Meanwhile, the man in the street turned a blind eye, because as Joe Debono Grech succintly put it, the voter doesn’t mind corruption provided they can benefit from it too.
Labour used its power of incumbency to great effect. Its latest strategy to send cheques to all Maltese households with just days to the polls is, as Bernard Grech rightly complained, a cheap vote-buying exercise akin to a bribe. But it is effective and it will win Labour more votes.
Meanwhile, while the Nationalist Party has made remarkable changes to its set-up, it has failed to inspire the electorate. While it has tried to shift away from its conservative mould, it has tiptoed around a number of issues which matter to the floating voter and adopted similar positions to the PL’s with a promise to do better.
When the two main parties are shorn of ideologies and are reluctant to touch the sacred cows (like contractors and hunters), it is no wonder many feel politically orphaned.
We are heading towards an election with many unknowns. We are still reeling from a pandemic which led to an economic earthquake, while the war in Ukraine will keep fuelling prices, shortages and uncertainty.
Which is why many of the two parties’ electoral pledges can never be sustained, even if they keep saying they are “costed”.
So where does that leave us?
We do not subscribe to the point of view of abstaining from voting. Voting is a privilege which is all too often taken for granted.
Voters have a broad choice in this election: apart from the two main parties and the greens, there are independent candidates, ultra-conservative parties and progressive ones contesting.
A third huge victory for PL would effectively be a rubber stamp for corruption and impunity and greatly increase the risk of Malta becoming a literal kleptocracy. A smaller majority for Labour would ensure “continuity”, but at least it would keep the next government in check.