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Fall from grace

Most vote with their pockets first and could not give two hoots if there is corruption, so long as they can continue to live well and still make more money

Saviour Balzan
20 March 2017, 8:15am
Mario De Marco was more appealing to the electorally strategic category of switchers, who voted PN in 2008 but switched to Labour, AD or stayed PN in 2013
Mario De Marco was more appealing to the electorally strategic category of switchers, who voted PN in 2008 but switched to Labour, AD or stayed PN in 2013
Today’s MaltaToday survey on voter’s concerns reveals that many respondents are very seriously worried about corruption. It is only second to traffic and with over 30% expressing the opinion that it is a grave concern to them.

The query in everyone’s mind is very simple: is this concern serious enough to bring down the Muscat administration? It is very difficult to say, but the numbers always tell a story and sometimes that story is not that straightforward.

Risk consultancies across the world are moving away from polls. But numbers cannot be ignored because they follow feelings, perceptions, beliefs and trends.

Let us for a minute look at the numbers from the survey and see who thinks that corruption is a top concern. The survey showed that:

PN voters in 2013        63.1%

PL voters in 2013        11.6%

Switchers                    28.8%

Present non-voters     30.2%

Present undecided     12.8%

The categories when interpreted correctly indicate that the most concerned segment are naturally the Nationalist voters, followed by the switchers and non-voters.

But even so the figures for those who are switchers and non-voters who view corruption as a concern, although relatively high, are not high enough to lead one to reach the conclusion that there is a massive swing against Labour.

If one had to go by the present numbers as they appeared in the last survey and extrapolate the end-result, one can only imagine that Labour will still win, albeit with a reduced majority.

I am one who believes that the country needs a strong opposition, but not an opposition as stuck up as this one. And I am also one to believe that Muscat’s economic model, though spot-on for investment and economic growth, needs beef when it comes to building a nation not only on pounds, shillings and pence, but on soul, culture, self-respect, social awareness and authenticity.

The truth is that most people do not vote with their hearts, and even if they did they are still hardly enticed by Simon Busuttil and his two embattled deputy leaders Mario de Marco and Beppe Fenech Adami. Most vote with their pockets first and could not give two hoots if there is corruption, so long as they can continue to live well and still make more money. Some politicians know this and argue that this is what is so important for them.

And this is the biggest fear. Most politicians will continue to sing to their electorate and detach themselves from the bigger picture. There is the belief that as long as we aim to win, the rules can be bent and we can do whatever we like.

Talking on RTK yesterday, MaltaToday journalist James Debono said that the highly polarised tribal politics of Malta could be the reason why so many young voters feel disenfranchised and are switching off.

It could very well be that the high voltage debate on politics will steer people away from the real debate. This will eventually benefit the status quo, more so if the quality of life around them is not at all bad.


Obviously we all cannot remember that in April of 2013, MaltaToday held a survey to ask them on their preferred candidate for PN leader. Gonzi was on his way out and the PN were in need of a new leader.

The results showed that the majority of Nationalist voters preferred Simon Busuttil as the next party leader. 46% of Nationalist voters wanted Busuttil, while 37% selected Mario de Marco, who seemed instead to have struck a chord with Labour voters and “switchers” who voted PN in 2008 and Labour in the 2013 general election. 

This emerged from the MaltaToday survey conducted in April 2013, which asked respondents whom they prefer among the four contenders who submitted their nomination for PN leader. The survey indicated that while Simon Busuttil enjoyed a clear majority among current PN voters, Mario de Marco was better placed to reach out to both Labour voters and voters who deserted the PN in the last election. 

The PN had rejected internal calls to enfranchise all party members, and the election was held in May and restricted to the party’s 900 councillors. 

De Marco’s overall 15-point lead with all respondents over Busuttil was explained by the latter’s unpopularity among Labour voters and De Marco’s greater appeal among switchers and voters who refused to divulge their vote in the last general election. 

Significantly, De Marco was more appealing to the electorally strategic category of switchers, who voted PN in 2008 but switched to Labour, AD or stayed PN in 2013.

In this category, 57% preferred De Marco, and only 27% preferred Busuttil. 

Unsurprisingly, Busuttil registered the lowest levels of support among Labour voters. The survey showed that the other two contenders for the post, namely former minister Francis Zammit Dimech and entrepreneur Raymond Bugeja, did not enjoy a wide following among both Nationalist voters and others.

Needless to say soon after this survey I penned an opinion stating that Mario de Marco should become leader of the PN. I am not sure that helped much. What has surely not helped is the recent revelation that De Marco served as legal counsel to the db Group. Indeed the story, revealed by MaltaToday two weeks ago, led him now this week to apologise on Friday to his party followers.

This apology has not helped. He expressed sadness that it had led to this.

A survey held now would not give a very happy portrait of De Marco’s standing. But more worrying is that De Marco was a hopeful light to all those who did not feel comfortable in the Nationalist party but were not taken in by the PL.

De Marco was seen as liberal, non-confrontational and appealing. His fall is a typical fall from grace. He stood in clear difference to Simon Busuttil, who wants you to jump on board and start wailing that Muscat is another version of Kim Jong Un, when he is not.

De Marco’s disappointment is not only a blow to himself but a blow to the PN and many switchers. Many of those who are diehard PN voters may be locked in side the echo chamber, believing that everyone out there is thinking the same thing and speaking the same language.

Worst of all the repeated calls for De Marco’s resignation from within has forced Busuttil to come out in his defence, when it is abundantly clear that it was Busuttil and Fenech Adami who legitimised voices calling for De Marco’s resignation. It can only get worse as the PN seems to be inwardly focused.

This internecine feud is just the kind of manna that the PL have been praying for. And for the time being it seems that God is listening to their prayers. A day in politics is a very long day. Mario de Marco just knows what I am talking about.

Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...
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