If you really want to ‘change the status quo’… why vote to maintain it?

We all know what the actual issue underpinning General Elections 2022 really is. We all know that it ultimately boils down to nothing more ‘transformational’, than whether the Labour Party ends up winning by around 40,000 votes… or ‘only’ by around 25,000 (or anything in between)

But before we get to the ‘voting’ (or ‘not voting’) part: there is, of course, plenty of room to argue that the status quo has, in fact, already changed quite a bit over the years… and nowhere has this transformation been more evident, than in the course of this very campaign.

For let’s face it, flks: General Election 2022 is not exactly unfolding according to the customary script, is it? In fact, it may yet go down in history as the single most ‘unconventional’ – not to say, ‘downright bloody boring’ – exercise in Representative Parliamentary Democracy, that this country has ever fallen asleep while experiencing...

To put that into perspective: my own memory of Maltese elections stretches all the way back to 1987… and I can assure you: the word ‘boring’ does not immediately spring to mind, when reliving that particular campaign.

Admittedly, no subsequent election ever quite came close, in terms of all the sheer ‘excitement’ – more like ‘homicidal thuggery’ back then, but never mind – that we traditionally associate with ‘Election Fever’. All the same, however: from my own experience, I can confirm that every one of the eight elections I voted in, from 1992 to 2017, came complete with its own sense of urgency, and – for want of a better expression –‘electoral responsibility’.

Whether the issue was to join (or not to join) the EU; or ‘to change (or not to change) a government after 25 years in power… and whatever it was we actually argued about, during all those past debates – anything from high-profile corruption scandals, which brought governments crashing down… to more mundane matters, like (I kid you not) ‘whether shops should be allowed open on a Sunday’, etc…

… in different ways, all those elections did at least FEEL like they represented some kind of pivotal, liminal, and above all ‘transformational’ opportunity for the entire country. Sometimes the transformation was very literal – as in both 1987 and 2003: where the resulting changes can truly be defined as ‘epochal’, ‘game-changing’, and so on… and sometimes, admittedly, a little less so.

Either way, however: voting really did seem to matter so much more, in the past, than it does today. Certainly, the stakes always felt much higher; and this may also explain at least part of the reason, why Malta’s traditionally voter turn-out has always been so stratospherically high to bein with.

Ok, it may have dropped a little, from a staggering 95% (!) in 2003, to ‘only’ 92.1% in 2017… and OK, our own polls may well be predicting that it will now drop further still: all the way down to (shock, horror!) a mere 88.1%...

But even if that actually materialises – and let’s face it: there’s a fair chance it won’t – well, Malta would still boast the highest voter turn-out in all of Europe, by some distance; and we would still remain the third highest, for voter-participation, in the entire democratic world (beaten only by countries like Singapore: where ‘not voting’ is actually a crime…)

Conversely, however, this also provides an explanation for precisely why – always assuming those polls are correct, by the way – our previously record-setting participation rates, now seem to be slowly descending from the stratosphere at last.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: unlike both Robert Abela and Bernard Grech (neither of whom can quite disguise their own panic, at the prospect of a slight dip in voting patterns) I have yet to be convinced that this election will in any way prove to be the ‘watershed moment’ some people are clearly expecting.

There has, however, been an undeniable decline in voter-participation, from election to election, since 1971 – usually by around 1-2% – and it cannot go unnoticed, that this decline seems to happily coincide with a steady lowering of standards, when it comes to the electoral debate itself.

To put that another way: it is, after all, slightly hard to feel any genuine sense of ‘electoral responsibility’… when what is actually being debated, throughout the campaign, is no longer a ‘battle of different world-views’… but rather, a an endless series of comparisons, between ‘how much Robert Abela spent on his villa’, and ‘whether Bernard Grech filed his tax returns on time’.

Nor can there be any particular sense of urgency, surrounding an election that you know, a priori, will most emphatically NOT bring about even a single iota of ‘change’ whatsoever (no, not even of the purely cosmetic variety… still less, ‘pivotal’, ‘liminal’, and all the rest of it…)

For at the end of the day, we all know what the actual issue underpinning General Elections 2022 really is. We all know that it ultimately boils down to nothing more ‘transformational’, than whether the Labour Party ends up winning by around 40,000 votes… or ‘only’ by around 25,000 (or anything in between).

So beyond the possibility of a little electoral game of ‘Musical Chairs’ afterwards – whereby the same old policies get to be implemented by all the slightly different (but otherwise largely identical) faces in Robert Abela’s new Cabinet…

… we all know that what we are actually being asked to vote for, in this election, is just a straight continuation of the present government (warts and all): whether we actually want that, or not.

And besides: we also know, a priori (because the Nationalist Party even told us so, in its manifesto) that we wouldn’t even get any real ‘change’, even if the Opposition really did pull off the mother of all electoral stunts… and actually becomes Malta’s next government this coming Sunday.

Right: I’ll keep this part brief, because I’ve only been writing about the same issue for around… ooh, let’s see: around 25 years now… but in what way, exactly, would a Nationalist government led by Bernard Grech, actually differ from a Labour government led by Robert Abela? How do those two parties’ manifestos distinguish themselves from one another, at a glance, on all the more important issues facing the country?

The bottom line, of course, is that they don’t (and have even stopped trying to, by the way: I for one can’t even tell the PN billboards apart from Labour’s… and I bet you can’t, either.)

But this, in turn, only brings us right back to the same old ‘status quo’ I mentioned earlier: you know, the one which so many people in this country always seem so eager to complain about; and which they always seem to want to ‘change’…

Yet how, pray tell, do they urge us all to bring about this ‘epochal transformation’? What course of action are these people actually suggesting, to usher in a truly generation change of the kind that we all – or so it seems, anyway – agree that this country so desperately needs?

Well, this is how one Facebook post (out of around half a million I saw this week) tried to answer those questions:

“Not voting is not going to change the status quo. It’s not going to improve the political scenario […] Keep in mind that the less people vote, the less accountable our politicians will feel because they will have less people to be accountable to. If you don’t vote, you give up your right to complain or protest. You give up your right to demand accountability from those who ultimately will decide your and your children’s future.”

Now: I could very easily rebut all that, point for point (starting with: “If you don’t vote, you give up your right to complain or protest.” Erm… sorry but I call ‘bull’ on that. The ‘right to complain’ is guaranteed by the Universal Charter of Human Rights; as such, it is not even remotely contingent on whether you choose to vote in elections, or otherwise…)

But I’ll limit myself to just this, for now: “Not voting is not going to change the status quo. It’s not going to improve the political scenario.”

That’s funny, because – if you reverse that premise, slightly – it should logically follow that: ‘Voting WILL change the status quo’ (and thereby ‘improve the political scenario’, etc.).

And yet, the lowest electoral turn-out in recent years was 92.1%  - almost the highest in the world, remember? - so, um… shouldn’t the political scenario already have been ‘improved’? Why are we even still talking about the need to ‘change the status quo’… when ‘voting’ is the way to go about actually changing it; and ‘voting’ is the one thing we have always consistently done, in recording-breaking numbers, in every single past election?  (And will probably do again next Saturday: no matter what the polls say?)

Very clearly, it should logically work the other way around: if our consistently high voter turn-outs have NEVER – not even once – resolved any of the issues facing this country…. who knows? Maybe it’s time to try ‘changing the status quo’, using a slightly different strategy instead…