There will be several points to ponder as results of the European Parliament elections come in on Sunday morning.
The first result, and the most important, will be the measure of the strength of the two main parties.
At the last EP elections, in 2014, Labour won 53.39 per cent of the votes, with 134,462 votes cast for its candidates.
The Nationalist Party trailed on 40.02 per cent with 100,785 votes.
PN leader Adrian Delia has insisted he should not be judged by these elections but the next general election, but clearly, observers will be looking into whether the party has made any progress so far under his leadership.
Will a further dip in the result for the PN lead to renewed pressure for a leadership challenge?
The Labour Party, meanwhile, is seeking to extend its lead to make sure it wins the fourth seat it says it also deserved five years ago.
At the 2014 EP election, former Prime Minister and Labour leader Alfred Sant was the only candidate to be elected early – he was elected on the first count with 48,739 votes.
In contrast, the second-placed candidate, the PN’s Roberta Metsola, who got 32,360 first count votes, was elected on the 16th count after inheriting the preferences of eliminated candidates.
Miriam Dalli (PL) was elected on the 23rd count after having got 23,479 first-count votes.
Vote-counting was wrapped up on the 28th count with the election of Marlene Mizzi – PL - (14,739 first count votes) and Therese Comodini Cachia (PN) who had 7,869 first count votes.
Dr Comodini Cachia managed to win her seat because of the way the single transferable vote system works. Her first count votes were several hundred fewer than those given to Francis Zammit Dimech (8,660) but she inherited more votes as other candidates were eliminated.
A particular disappointment in the 2014 election was that for Labour’s Gozitan candidate Clint Camilleri, who despite winning 13,484 first count votes, still failed to get elected. Mr Camilleri subsequently contested and was elected in the general election and is now parliamentary secretary for agriculture and animal welfare.
Dr Comodini Cachia also successfully contested the general election in 2016. As the results came in, she caused an outcry by saying that she was opting to keep her seat in the European Parliament and would therefore give up her new seat in the national parliament. The public’s reaction was enough to convince her to change her mind.
Her European Parliament seat was then taken over by Dr Zammit Dimech.
Of the current group of MEPs, Marlene Mizzi is the only one not seeking re-election.
David Casa is the longest-serving MEP, having been elected ever since Malta started holding the EP elections in 2004.
Prior to his first election, Mr Casa had been one of the leaders of the IVA Movement for Malta to join the EU. He previously worked for Foreign Minister Guido de Marco and started his working life as a campaigner for the Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin.
In the last European Parliament term, Mr Casa was head of the PN delegation and coordinator on Employment and Social Affairs for the EPP Group in the European Parliament. He was fiercely critical of the government in EU fora on the rule of law, the government’s handling of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation and allegations of money laundering, drawing accusations of working against Malta’s interests. He also piloted a proposal for an EU directive for a better work-life balance.
This was the first European Parliament term for Alfred Sant, who had ironically led the campaign for Malta not to join the EU. Dr Sant had appeared undecided about seeking re-election before Joseph Muscat publicly urged him to do so. He has since declared this will be his last ever election.
Joseph Muscat's last political contest?
Although he is not a candidate, this election could also be the last for Dr Muscat – himself a former MEP - who has led Labour’s campaigning.
After the last general election, Dr Muscat said he would not seek re-election, fuelling speculation that he would eventually step down and seek a senior EU post. That could very well hinge on how the social-democratic group does in the EP elections.
With Dr Muscat possibly on his way out of local politics, MEP Miriam Dalli could well seek to follow his political career path from the EP to local politics (the two also started out as Labour journalists). Her performance on Saturday will therefore be one to watch since a strong result would strengthen her credentials for a party leadership run.
Dr Dalli was also first elected to the European Parliament in 2014 and built a reputation as a very active MEP, successfully campaigning, among other issues, for the EU to set drastic vehicle emission reduction targets.
While Roberta Metsola’s seat appears to be secure, opinion polls have pointed to a battle for the PN’s second and possibly third seat between incumbent David Casa and Frank Psaila, the PN’s former communications director and presenter of Net TVs discussion programme Iswed fuq l-Abjad. This is the first time that Dr Psaila has contested an election, and he was also among the first candidates to launch his campaign.
A survey for The Sunday Times of Malta indicated Miriam Dalli, Alfred Sant, Alex Agius Saliba and Josianne Cutajar as taking the seats for Labour, assuming it wins four seats. That would be a particular disappointment for Cyrus Engerer who for the past years was the prime minister’s representative in the EU and remains his special adviser.
Saturday’s election will mark the first time that the Democratic Party will officially be on a ballot paper. At the general election it was allied to the PN and its candidates appeared on the PN lists.
The PD candidates include party leader Godfrey Farrugia. Should he be elected – however unlikely – he would have to choose whether to take up his new seat and give up his seat in the Maltese parliament, or vice versa.
This brings up a hypothetical question. Should he give up his Malta parliament seat, and given that he had been elected through a casual election to fill a seat vacated by Beppe Fenech Adami, which party would have the right to co-opt his replacement, the PN or the PD?
Turnout at the last EP election was 74.8%, four per cent down on 2009, when 78.8 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote. In 2004, when Malta held its first European elections 82 per cent had cast their vote.
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