The Local Council and European Parliament (EP) elections are around the corner, but I don’t think there was ever such a one-sided context in such a subtly toxic democratic environment as now.

There are many reasons for people of good will to be tempted to lose heart and decide not to bother with voting. The government’s Teflon-like ignoring of international opprobrium for its dismal rule of law credentials. Its ongoing attempt to colonise the judiciary. The PN’s moral ambiguity in seeking financial support from 17 Black protagonists.

The almost total silence of both major parties at Lassana Cisse’s death, which has all the markings of Malta’s first racist murder. And just a few days ago, the elevation of racial discrimination as official bipartisan policy in the recent televised debate between Muscat and Delia.

What is the point of local council elections, some argue, if the government has no real faith in the principles of subsidiarity that underpin their existence? What is the point of MEPs, some claim, if the EP is clearly powerless in the face of government arrogance and the local Opposition is supine?

I can understand these feelings. But I cannot agree. Even if feeble, the power of your vote is far too precious, purchased at far too great a price by our ancestors, to be left unused. Additionally, the EP elections give the rare opportunity of a say in matters that transcend petty local politics. Even if you wish to use your vote to send a local message, there are ways you can do so that do not have the high-stakes consequence of a general election.

Of the current MEPs, if you are looking for a prolific contributor to the European project, Roberta Metsola and Miriam Dalli could fit the bill. If you are looking for a dour defender of Maltese exceptionality, Alfred Sant is the acceptable face of Maltese Euroscepticism. If your focus is the tenacious defence of rule of law and press freedom, David Casa is up your street.

If you want to burn your vote as a votive offering in the incense burner on the government’s altar you have Cyrus Engerer

Of the other candidates, if you want an experienced EU technocrat you have Peter Agius. If you want an environmentalist and civil society advocate you have Arnold Cassola, Michael Briguglio, Camilla Appelgen and Godfrey Farrugia.

If you want to burn your vote as a votive offering in the incense burner on the government’s altar you have Cyrus Engerer.

If you want to use your vote to give a message to Adrian Delia but at the same time cannot stomach the government’s contempt of the rule of law and democratic due process, then you need to know how to deploy your 1 and 2.

But do vote. You owe it to your children.

Labour’s May Day Transulazjoni

Two years ago Joseph Muscat had used the May Day celebrations of his party, also held in front of the Office of the Prime Minister, to call the 2017 general election. I had marvelled then at the sheer audacity of using Castille for the backdrop of this announcement as “a visual metaphor of entitlement”.

In this year’s May Day mass meeting a few days ago Labour’s imagemongers went one better. Muscat actually stepped out of the soaring front door of his palatial office and walked down the massed ranks of the faithful on to the stage. Some have likened it to a travesty of a mincing model at a fashion show, but it was more ludicrous and disgusting than that.

In Maltese popular religious culture, the transulazjoni is the ceremony when the titular statue of a village feast is taken out of its niche with much pomp and circumstance and put on devotional display in the church one week before the procession proper. Muscat’s choreography resonated with this tradition and would have registered subliminally to his adoring fans.

What we saw in this year’s May Day celebrations of the Labour Party was not simply the apotheosis of political bad taste. It was nothing less than the start of the cause for secular canonisation of Muscat even before he leaves office and rises to higher things.

Swamping the PN

Then again, say what you want about Labour’s imagemongers, but they are streets ahead of the PN’s clunking electoral machine. And it is not simply the result of Labour swimming in cash (now then, no awkward questions please, this is a family paper).

Their lightening ‘Sorry sibna żball ieħor’ response to the PN’s billboard spelling cock-up was spot-on. None of the PN’s subsequent copy-cat hissy fits were an adequate response. In this game, the one who gets the message out first wins; there are no second-place prizes.

But what really impressed me was the war of the street-side banners. PN issued a rather straightforward ‘Flimkien għal Pajjiżna’. Labour did not simply counter it with ‘Malta f’Qalbna’; the iconography of their street-side banners carefully mimicked the PN’s.

Drivers, their intended audience, glancing at the wall of banners, are seeing a single continuous sequence of similar shapes and a kaleidoscope of undifferentiated blocks of colour. The PN’s banners have not only been swamped in number but effectively neutralised visually and rendered invisible.

Of course, my admiration is not approbation. One can objectively marvel at the ‘Cathedral of Light’ choreography of the Nazis’ night rallies over 80 years ago while simultaneously abhorring all that they stood for. It is only then that the visual metaphor can be deconstructed for what it is: an elaborate lie.

Labour’s campaigning is slick. But so is snake oil.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece


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