A case of mid-term blues?

For the PN to persuade the majority of the one-third potential ‘abstainers’ to vote for a change in government, it needs to have a popular and inspirational leader backed by an intelligent strategist

Last Sunday this newspaper reported that the result of its survey on voting intentions showed the PN was leading Labour by some 5,000 votes.

The turnout was 69%, which meant that 31% would have abstained from voting if the election was held when the survey was carried out.

The survey was conducted over two weeks and partly coincided with the news of the driving licence abuses by government and Transport Malta officials... but the real election is held on one day after a hectic electoral campaign.

This means that the number of people who actually abstain by not voting would be much lower in the real world.

The result is quite interesting considering that the traditional loyalty of the Maltese electorate has been eroded considerably over the years. It has become apparent that the two main political parties can each rely on only one third of the electorate and that the thinking minority – the so-called floating voter – has now gone up to one third of the electorate. But the next election – according to the survey – would deliver the historically lowest turnout ever.

The result of the next election could end being decided by those who abstain from voting. There is a segment of the population that the current administration is continuously upsetting by its blatant patrimonialism. These fickle switchers are upset by the perceived widespread abuse that has become blatantly evident.

But the electorate changes – old people die and young people start voting. The survey shows that abstention is the preferred option of the younger generation. The two traditional parties with their traditional methods of criticising each other do not seem to impress young voters.

The date of the next election is too far away for the survey to mean anything. Citizens will have the chance to vote next year in the European Parliament and local council elections. But in these elections, many will actually be tempted to abstain completely or to vote in some unorthodox way to send a message to their party. This, in the current circumstances, would happen more in the case of Labour supporters who are dissatisfied – to say the least – with the way things are going.

There is time, of course, for the Labour administration to recoup many of its lost votes. This is the main focus on which political observers and the media in Malta will probably be concentrating in the near future. Criticism of the conduct of Robert Abela is no longer something reserved for militant PN voters: it has spread even among Labour supporters.

The popularity of Bernard Grech was always fickle. Many PN supporters openly criticise him and look to the day when he is replaced by someone who is more popular and who has more backbone.

If Roberta Metsola manages to get a second term as President of the European Parliament, it will be more difficult to woo her to replace Bernard Grech and lead the PN in the electoral campaign as many PN supporters are hoping.

Traditionally, at the end of the road, it is the party whose leader enjoys the most popularity that wins the election. This means that Labour is still lined for another electoral victory which would mean a historic fourth term.

But it is too early to make forecasts based on surveys made during a bout of mid-term blues, as Labour is suffering from at the moment.

For the PN to persuade the majority of the one-third potential ‘abstainers’ to vote for a change in government, it needs to have a popular and inspirational leader backed by an intelligent strategist. Except for Metsola, from here the field looks completely barren.

Still, there is time for surprises.

Corrupted by populism

Yuval Noah Harari the famous Israeli author, public intellectual, historian and professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has an interesting take on the tragedy Israel is facing after the atrocious Hamas attack last week.

Writing in The Guardian, he says: ‘So how did it happen? How did the state of Israel go missing in action? On one level, Israelis are paying the price for years of hubris, during which our governments and many ordinary Israelis felt we were so much stronger than the Palestinians, that we could just ignore them. There is much to criticize about the way Israel has abandoned the attempt to make peace with the Palestinians and has held for decades millions of Palestinians under occupation.

‘The real explanation for Israel’s dysfunction is populism rather than any alleged immorality. For many years, Israel has been governed by a populist strongman, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a public-relations genius but an incompetent prime minister. He has repeatedly preferred his personal interests over the national interest and has built his career on dividing the nation against itself. He has appointed people to key positions based on loyalty more than qualifications, took credit for every success while never taking responsibility for failures, and seemed to give little importance to either telling or hearing the truth.

‘The coalition Netanyahu established in December 2022 has been by far the worst. It is an alliance of messianic zealots and shameless opportunists, who ignored Israel’s many problems – including the deteriorating security situation – and focused instead on grabbing unlimited power for themselves. In pursuit of this goal, they adopted extremely divisive policies, spread outrageous conspiracy theories about state institutions that oppose their policies, and labelled the country’s serving elites as ‘deep state’ traitors.

‘The government was repeatedly warned by its own security forces and by numerous experts that its policies were endangering Israel and eroding Israeli deterrence at a time of mounting external threats. Yet when the IDF’s (Israel Defence Forces) chief of staff asked for a meeting with Netanyahu to warn him about the security implications of the government’s policies, Netanyahu refused to meet him. When Defence Minister Yoav Gallant nevertheless raised the alarm, Netanyahu fired him. He was then forced to reinstate Gallant only because of an outbreak of popular outrage. Such behaviour over many years enabled a calamity to strike Israel.

‘No matter what one thinks of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the way populism corroded the Israeli state should serve as a warning to other democracies all over the world.’

I found this assessment to be incredibly intriguing!