A third political party winner? | Mark Said

Building a major new party in Malta is not impossible. Indeed, if we stand back far enough, we see that it did happen in the past

It is a fact. Malta is harbouring a growing number of disenfranchised and disillusioned voters who are hungry for a new direction. The need is felt for a new political party, but Maltese political history shows us that it is only remotely possible. Yet, just imagine what sort of impact 70,000 indifferent voters can have on the country. Can the time be just right for a peripheral or new party to enter the fray and seize the opportunity?

The Nationalist Party’s MPs are seemingly entirely at odds with its membership on the issue of whether Bernard Grech should remain leader. Political analysts suggest that this may present an opportunity for disillusioned Nationalist MPs to form a new political party with other disgruntled Labour MPs and unelected electoral candidates from both parties. Should that come about, this would somewhat give birth to a new cross-party "progressive alliance". Should those involved go one step further and push for an entirely new political party? Would the emergence of such a party be to Malta’s benefit?

Can we build a new political party, replacing either the Nationalists or the Labourites, or perhaps both? A lot of Maltese want one.

Some have abandoned the Labour Party, while others now consider themselves a band of outsider revolutionaries overthrowing what their respective party used to represent to drain its swamp.

The Nationalists, on the other hand, are divided between a beleaguered faction incessantly frustrated by the party’s listlessness and inability to act and another faction wanting to overthrow what they see as a useless artefact of neoliberalism from within.

Most Maltese believe our democracy is endangered. They are now looking at this rubble-strewn scene with a mixture of disgust and genuine alarm. They see angry movements sweeping over politics, pushing it into an ugly war over who to blame as our parties seem unable to address any of the problems we desperately need solved. They see leaders seemingly uninterested in sacrificing short-term parochial interests for public duty and failing institutions that no longer work the way we claim. They see problems stacking up in a rapidly changing world, yet few politicians offer plausible solutions for how we are going to come together as a people to put it right.

Nor is there any reason to believe our parties will magically fix themselves. No great leaders are on the horizon who seem capable of pulling us into a better future. No movements are sweeping across the country offering solutions likely to stabilise politics anytime soon. We see few, if any, local party organisations, party activists, or established thinkers capable of revolutionising our parties or our politics from within. In fact, every incentive seems to push us faster in the opposite direction, towards further decay, collapse, and national decline.

While nobody expects our parties to suddenly reform themselves from within, few believe it is possible to challenge them from the outside either. No great third-party movements are presently gaining ground. While there have long been smaller parties on the margins of Maltese politics, such as ADPD, ABBA, Imperium Europa, the People’s Party, Volt Malta, and others like them, none has ever been able to seriously compete. They sometimes get on local and national ballots and even elect local officials, but they never raise enough money to compete against the huge war chests of the PN and the PL, nor do they attract big names or major media attention.

None of them comes close to winning major races. Some well-intentioned people are now exploring building another new party, mainly former Nationalists and Labourites unhappy with their party’s recent turn, but few think they have much chance of making their efforts work in a way that can revolutionise our politics.

Given the recent history of failed third parties, most traditional and Maltese party-aligned voters believe new parties are pointless efforts because they never win. They see new parties as spoilers, hopeless one-off vanity campaigns for attracting media attention fuelled by the narcissism of bored intelligentsia, or irrelevant playacting from deluded radicals who do not understand how politics in Malta actually works. This widespread conventional wisdom is understandable. But it is completely wrong.

Building a major new party in Malta is not impossible. Indeed, if we stand back far enough, we see that it did happen in the past. Even our modern PN and PL were essentially new parties, formed after their predecessors overthrew the older political order. Forget for a moment how Joseph Muscat eventually ended up in political shambles to the point of being chosen as the world’s most corrupt politician. Yet it was he who empowered a brain trust of advisers to transform the Labour Party into something unrecognisable from before. He essentially overthrew his party with a coup launched from within during an internal crisis. Alfred Sant’s party and its supporters, all but shattered amid the great dismay at losing power after such a short spell in government, were in due course captured by a new liberal movement headed by Joseph Muscat that overthrew its old philosophy and remade the party from within.

The goal of forming a new party is not to create a stalemate between the two major parties vying for influence. Nor is it to offer every Maltese a comfortable political home that perfectly reflects his or her idiosyncratic values without making compromises with others. It is to replace a major party and become the next major party in a new political era.