The vote-hunting season has started in earnest. Judging by the political rhetoric of the first couple of days of the campaign, it seems there is one underlying strategy that underpins the electoral programmes of both main political parties: promises to deliver nirvana to the electorate – a place of perfect peace and happiness, just like heaven perhaps.
The Labour Party promises to invest €700 million in urban “green lungs”. To make this promise more tangible and meaningful for ordinary people who have suffered the effects of urban and rural degeneration for too long, Labour is proposing attractive imagery of green projects. St Anne Street, in Floriana will be pedestrianised and turned into a garden; the Ħamrun milk factory will also be converted into a large garden; the Birkirkara aqueducts will be given a “green roof”.
The Nationalist Party’s first electoral promises focus on the diversification of the economy, with 10 new sectors being earmarked “as a matter of priority”. Without giving many details on whether these priorities have at least passed the test of a high-level feasibility study, some of the “new” economic activities, such as investment in AI applications, e-sports and video gaming, have been proposed in the past with limited success.
Populist rhetoric has often been the cornerstone of political marketing.
But for many discerning voters, what matters is not so much what is promised but the credibility of the parties making the promises.
Swing voters are becoming a more significant section of the electorate. Even if they may still be a minority, they will want to be satisfied that the country’s political leaders identify the crucial issues that need to be addressed. They will also want to ensure that any promises can be sustainably financed with their taxes.
Malta, like all EU countries, is facing formidable economic challenges. Unlike many of its EU colleagues, however, it is also facing reputational difficulties due to the abuse of power that has cost taxpayers dearly over the last few years.
To convince discerning voters, the two main political parties need to abandon the rhetoric of platitudes, populism and over-simplification. They must explain to the electorate how they will address the present and future challenges that will determine the quality of life of people. The ‘money is no problem’ mindset has been around for too long. It needs to be replaced by a mindset of ‘every taxpayer’s euro must give a return to society’.
Swing voters will be interested to know, for example, how the education system is going to be reformed to improve the achievement records of our young people.
They will also want to see how the next administration plans to reverse the stranglehold of state capture by a few businesses linked with corrupt politicians.
Many will want to know what the two main political parties are going to be proposing to start reversing the environmental damage caused by the continuous building craze, noise pollution and encroachment on the rural landscape.
One need hardly prove that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Our political leaders must stop promising to be all things to all men by bartering government jobs, building permits and other unearned privileges in return for votes.
Sound public finances mean that every euro of taxpayers’ money is spent for the good of society and does not end up in the pockets of double-dealing politicians, corrupt public officials or rogue business people.
This is what politicians must pledge. Otherwise, their manna-from-heaven promises will prove more than financially costly for the country.