The people have spoken, but it’s being lost in translation

The MEP elections were a cold shower for a complacent, arrogant administration which had become too used to gliding easily through elections, smugly convinced that they had the public’s votes in the bag

We have all seen those comic sketches in which an interpreter takes the comments being uttered in one language and completely blunders them when translating them for the audience into their native tongue, thus conveying an entirely different meaning.

This, in a nutshell, seems to be what is happening right now to Prime Minister Robert Abela.

The people have spoken with their vote, and it is clear to anyone with their ear on the ground why, especially in the MEP elections, they abstained or voted for someone else. But he seems to be hearing completely different things. The haemorrhage of votes from the Labour Party has nothing to do with the fact that the party did not “take care of” their own people (i.e. political favours).

It has nothing to with the abortion issue not being on the table (huh, where on earth did he get that from?). And it certainly cannot be blamed on civil servants expecting “cushy jobs” or failing in their duties to the public (while some departments certainly work better than others, it was a grave error of judgement to single out the public sector in this way).

Curiously in his interview on One TV, he also kept referring to young people and the direction they want the country to take – whereas my impression is that there was a dire lack of interest in the elections from this demographic, despite lowering the voting age to 16. It seems from his comments that his new “cause” is to lower the age of consent even though there are much more urgent issues facing us.

Frankly, rather than flailing around trying to grasp at straws to explain the MEP results, Abela should have resisted the urge to comment immediately and should have told the media that he needed some time to properly analyse what happened.

When an election goes sour, shooting from the hip, blaming everyone and everything, is never a good idea. If the Labour Party really wants to know “what happened” it’s not the people who phone in to their radio station they should be listening to. Instead they need to spend a few weeks just listening to ordinary conversations or even monitoring Facebook for a while, to get a feel of the viewpoint of non-fanatics who always swing an election.

During the interview, Abela also referred to “long-standing issues”, particularly in the construction sector, and their effects on people's lives and the environment, as well as other areas like population and foreign workers. However, he did not elaborate on just what exactly the game plan is. Is there going to be a moratorium on development permits?

Is there going to be a limit to how many foreign workers will be given work permits? Will he put a stop to all these axe-wielding entities from chopping down more trees leaving us with barren village squares instead? People want tangible concrete action to change the current economic model rather than just a throwaway comment which means nothing in real terms.

He spoke about the need for reforms in the family court to speed up the process so that cases are decided more quickly. Again, nice words, but how? When? I also expect to hear him take decisive action on domestic violence cases where to this day victims, mostly women, are forced to flee their homes, desperate to find alternative accommodation which they can afford, while the perpetrator stays comfortably at home.

The PM also obviously underestimated how bad it looked in the eyes of decent people that he was still supporting Joseph Muscat, despite the fact that he is facing very serious criminal charges. Is anyone who is level-headed even advising the PM or has he been locking himself up in an ivory tower where cronies and sycophants pat him on the back and tell him “way to go Prim! You tell ‘em!”?

Every Labour voter who refused to vote in disgust was speaking loudly and clearly against the way the Labour Party has been hijacked by: (a) the insatiable, greedy construction lobby and; (b) people who only entered politics to makes themselves rich. In many of the scandals and murky contracts there are so many intertwining networks and conflicts of interest, with the same fingers in all the pies, that it has become impossible to ignore, for those who want to see. It is also significant that when people do not vote in protest, it is because they want the party to KNOW they did not vote.

In his interview, Abela repeated the phrase, “I will not make any compromises with what is right” but such vague remarks are not good enough. Can he speak clearly and openly, for once? Alternatively, those who voted for independent candidates or third parties have given up on the two big parties – a trend which I hope continues, for Malta’s sake. We are seeing this trend in the local council elections as well, as more independents have been elected than ever before and may this long continue.

The power to break the stranglehold of the PL and the PN, which has had the country in its grip for too long, is in the hands of the people… it always has been. It is a shame that we can only exercise this power when elections roll around, but this time, the message was loud and clear – you have to fix what is wrong with the country, because we have had enough.

The result – which took so many people by surprise – also put paid to the myth that Labour voters are “sheep” or “morons” (the infamous ‘ġaħan’ jibe which is repeated ad nauseam). They are also not so easily bought off by well-timed government cheques. Of course, it is also true that this was what is known as a ‘safe’ election to voice one’s anger and resentment against the party in office, since many feel too disconnected from the European Parliament and its bureaucracy in grey, gloomy Brussels.

In fact, only a handful of the many MEP candidates made EU policies part of their campaign or told us what they stood for. Even local council elections are a safe way to use your vote as a protest because apart from the very passionate canvassers banging on the perspex, most of us are not that invested in which party wins the majority in our town or village.

I think that, except for party insiders, few residents know (or care) whether their council is red or blue. What we care about is that whoever is on the council will work in the interests of the residents, rather than his own glory and political aspirations. When it comes to the general elections however, it will probably be a different story, so we cannot automatically transpose what happened on 8 June to that future result.

Still, the MEP elections were a cold shower for a complacent, arrogant administration which had become too used to gliding easily through elections, smugly convinced that they had the public’s votes in the bag. One also has to mention that the PM (and the party media) kept calling it a “win” despite the fact that the party’s majority was cut down to size from 40k in 2019 to around 8.5k this time.

With 45.3% of the votes, it has slipped to below the 50% line for the first time since 2013. More crucially, it lost its fourth seat thanks to Roberta Metsola single-handedly winning more than two quotas. So, calling this a win is a clear case of someone in denial and trying to save face.

If we are merely number-crunching then yes, technically it did beat the PN (which only managed 42%), but by describing this as a victory, Abela is only fooling himself. But the stunned, gaunt look on his face at the counting hall certainly did not fool anyone else.