The campaigns, the parties and the choices

If Abela wins with a substantial majority he should really be humbled. And he should consider facing the real challenges of this country, not the proposals that were construed to win him a massive majority

It has been the most boring four weeks of election campaigns I have ever experienced in my life. It has also been the most serene and calm of all campaigns, where provocation and confrontation were on nobody’s agenda.

Unknown to anyone, both parties even agreed not to doorstep their leaders at party rallies and press conferences. Were it not for the independent media, the unorthodox and unexpected questions would never have been fielded.

The parties went into overdrive proposing an electoral programme deprived of any economic sense but simply geared to impress the electorate with one cardinal message. If you vote for our party you will be better off with a handsome sum of cash.

It might not work for those who have some grey matter but if you are a pensioner and not exactly swimming in money, a cheque of 200 euros is a notable contribution. And if you are family of three and just 30, two 100 euro cheques is good news.

People are simply interested in one simple thing: as long as I have money or as long as I am better off, I could not care less.

The simple answer to that is that most people are better off than they were in 2012 and most of them could not give a flying hoot if Sannat gets ruined, if the Turtle dove can be shot out of the skies in Spring, if more roads are being planned, if land reclamation does take place, if the same old faces are elected or if more money is wasted to turn our urban centres into floating plastic gardens while the rest of the countryside is being treated to an extermination programme by the greedy construction lobby.

The alternative to all this is of course possible if the opposition and other parties muster an alternative that offers a a better future.

Okay, let start by looking at the small parties.

ABBA and Partit Popolari are out of the question. They are not only a motley of misfits unable to clearly state what they stand for, but more akin to a loony party grounded in some time-warp.

Next comes Arnold Cassola, the ex-Alternattiva boss, who single-handedly organised an impressive campaign. Very presentable, but what I cannot understand is why he did not try to get others to run on his list.   

Remarkable for being so depressing and unimpressive, was ADPD. Surely, this could be their last show. Since their inception in 1989, they have slowly but steadily committed mistake after mistake in their presentation and message.

They insist of standing for election, but when they stand together they look like the cast of a British TV comedy. And if that was not enough, they chose as their slogan a broom. Yes a broom! And Carmel Cacopardo, their leader, thought it was one of the brightest and most riveting slogans the Maltese public could be presented with! Apart from the fact that Cacopardo has a very serious problem with charisma, dress sense and communication.

The next candidate is Bernard Grech, the courageous leader of the Nationalist party. He has come a long way. Taking over a party a year and some months ago and facing an election soon after, Grech managed to steer clear of the ‘corruption’ battle-cry and with that he managed to sideline the ‘Daphne crowd’ who have been instrumental in winning Labour their two last elections.

He also managed to improve the social media campaigning, thanks to Lovin Malta shareholder cum adviser Chris Peregin, who masters this communication tool.

But when it came to content, the PN were nowhere near to what the PL had to propose.  Their numerous mistakes or inability to understand their own proposals left them far too often wasting precious time explaining what their proposals really meant.

And they started on the wrong foot when four of their veteran MPs, Mario Galea, Claudio Grech, Kirsty Debono and Clyde Puli, threw in their towel in the first two days of the campaign. Neither did it help that heavyweights Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario De Marco were excluded from the media.

In the very end, the best campaign the PN had was the feeling of revulsion in the middle ground for the Labour Party for sins past and present.

But there were no impressive names on the PN list. The only rising stars appeared to be Mark Anthony Sammut, Alex Borg from Gozo, and Joe Giglio. Giglio rocked the 9th and 10th district, but when it came to debating or articulating economic arguments, Giglio failed to impress.

On the Labour side, it was clear that Robert Abela would only be campaigning when and where it mattered. Avoiding the independent media or a debate with Bernard Grech, bolstered by the campaign methods he used in the leadership battle two years before, this time round he was not only addressing solely the Labour delegates but general election voters, young, old, blue, red, floaters and cynics.

Abela’s war chest gave Labour the chance to flood social media with their campaign. And Abela, though less poetic (when compared to Muscat), has managed to show that he has a clear understanding of his proposals and economic vision.

When faced with an onslaught on his time at the Planning Authority and the remuneration he received, Abela’s reply was scripted and he never steered away from the same retort.

He was also comforted by the fact that this direct order finds its roots in 2001 when the Nationalist party awarded Robert Abela’s father George Abela, then a Labour rebel, with the legal advisory office at the Planning Authority.

Abela’s rallying cry was also consistent: it reminded people of their quality of life, their income, the stability in prices, the way COVID had been tackled, and that he had shouldered the sins of the past and responded.

He reached out to every lobby with a gift, the car enthusiasts with a track, the Marsaskala residents with no marina, the hunters with more shooting and employees with more tax benefits.

It was as if Santa had come to town.

But there were also some radical signals tucked in the manifest or debates. References to euthanasia, IVF, abortion and no homework at school, all contributed to keeping the radicalism that was unleashed in 2013 somehow alive.

And wonder of wonders, the elephant in the room, Joseph Muscat, was never mentioned by Robert Abela. As if he did not exist. That was not a trivial thing to do.

What happens next Saturday could very well be reflected in the surveys that have been published in the MaltaToday daily survey over the last three weeks. It may not be the case if somehow the survey has missed something in the ‘don’t know voters’ or the ‘do not want to vote.’

If Abela wins with a substantial majority he should really be humbled. And he should consider facing the real challenges of this country, not the proposals that were construed to win him a massive majority.

But if he is bruised he should wake up to the fact that the country has rediscovered calibration and the cycle of democratic majorities.

Then he should return to the roots of a true social democratic party and build for the future of Malta and his political legacy.