It will not be long before the country goes to the polls to choose the next administration. One factor by which voters could easily distinguish the two major parties in the past is hardly present anymore: clear political ideologies.
The time is over when it was easy to identify the Nationalist Party by its centre-right and the Labour Party by its centre-left beliefs.
Both parties now aim to attract the middle classes that make up the largest sector of the electorate.
Labour, by its wholehearted espousal of a get-rich-quick-by-any-means approach to managing the country, has moved away from its core commitment to social democratic values like protection of the underprivileged. And the PN, conscious of societal trends, has been edging away from its traditional commitment to conservative Christian democratic principles, especially after losing the battle on divorce.
Given the difficulty of discerning an ideological divide, some among the growing segment of swing voters will find it that much harder to make a choice. A definition of swing voter is one who can go either way, who is not so solidly committed to one of the major parties as to make all efforts at persuasion futile.
Of course, they are not a homogenous bunch. Many may switch parties for very personal reasons, like failure to get a favour from the party they once supported. While transactional politics may be the main reason why voter turnout is so high in Malta, others resent this model which both the PL and the PN have practised for decades – the bartering of votes for jobs, promotions, permits and other undeserved favours.
A large proportion of swing voters will likely be young people voting for the first time, with little or no party loyalty inherited from their families, which is a very good thing. A good number will be idealists. Their choice becomes even more difficult when faced with the fact that Malta’s electoral system disadvantages the small, more idealistic parties that aim to break the two-party mould.
The Labour Party will undoubtedly project itself as the better manager of the economy and of the health crisis, knowing that many voters are not unduly worried by the scandals and abuse of power that have characterised its administrations since 2013.
Based on opinion surveys, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Labour will win the election by another large majority. Such a result will disappoint those who are desperate to see a clear and unequivocal commitment to a more honest, clean and moral way of governing.
The PN, on its part, has engaged in an internecine exercise where the old guard refuses to understand the message sent by the electorate in 2013 and 2017. It has yet to put forward a credible vision that appeals to the thinking swing voter, especially those with liberal sentiments.
This leaves the disgruntled among the electorate no choice but to disengage from the voting process or vote for a small party with little chance of being elected.
Democracy thrives when people have a clear choice on who they prefer to govern them. While bread and butter questions like jobs, the cost of living and the economy will always be top of voters’ concerns, the country badly needs a new vision of transformational politics.
This would be about prioritising action that furthers the general good, even if some people may have to make some sacrifices to achieve it.
This would only succeed if a political party can present a credible leadership that can define and sell such a convincing, long-term vision to the electorate.
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