A June election on the cards?

Calling an election and winning it will give Joseph Muscat some respite because the people’s approval of his performance will fly in the face of Simon Busuttil’s coalition against corruption

The country faces a political crisis, the likes of which it has not seen for a long time
The country faces a political crisis, the likes of which it has not seen for a long time

Where there is smoke there is fire – or so the saying goes. Talk of a very early election has become the most talked about topic after the revelations of the goings on at Pilatus Bank and other allegations. One topic is very likely linked with the other, of course.

Up to some time ago, I have never believed that Joseph Muscat would not opt for a full term with the election being held in March 2018. But, as Harold Wilson once famously said, in politics a week is history. And the history of Maltese politics will surely never forget what is going on at the moment. Not only are the top echelons at Castille being openly accused of graft, but the accusations have also hit the Prime Minister himself, through the allegation that his wife owns the third mysterious company registered in Panama with the other two companies belonging to Minister Konrad Mizzi and the PM’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri. Mr and Mrs Muscat vehemently deny this allegation and are suing for damages.

Today, the country faces a political crisis, the likes of which it has not seen for a long time. The very independent institutions on which our democracy relies for checks and balances are being openly questioned and challenged. Independent judicial inquiries are depicted as ‘sham’ before they even get started. Reckless assessments have run riot.

Whatever the truth – and it is very difficult to establish the objective truth – the country has been taken over by speculation and accusations to the extent that reality has been thrown to the dogs and the game of perception has taken over.

This is exactly what could prompt the Prime Minister to call a very early election. What’s in it for him? Well for starters, he would probably still win, albeit with a reduced majority of votes. Traditional Labour supporters will defend their leaders through thick and thin, finding reasons that justify their support in the face of serious accusations of abuses committed by their party in government. Some just deny the accusations saying they are false. But others try to justify their decision to remain loyal to their party leadership.

The excuses and mental gymnastics I have heard in the last two weeks in the attempts people make to justify their sticking to supporting Joseph Muscat, in spite of what his administration is being accused of, are incredible. But that’s how the human mind works: it works out reasons to rationally justify what one would have already pre-established as a result of bias rather than as a result of logic. Others even openly speak of being ready to allow the Prime Minister and his clique some hanky-panky so long as they personally are having a field day as a result of a booming economy. Ethics and morality do not seem to exist in this small island.

Then there are those genuine Labour party supporters who realise that their party has been hijacked by a gang of people whose personal interests come well before those of the party and of the country. Will they resist their instinct and vote PN? I doubt it.

Yet Muscat is bound to lose a number of votes and his possible second victory will certainly not be as massive as his first. Most of the PN’s increase in votes will come from young people voting for the first time as well as from switchers and PN abstainers who have regretted the decision they took four years ago. There could also be some disgruntled Labour supporters but these will probably abstain rather than vote PN.

Calling an election and winning it will give Joseph some respite because the people’s approval of his performance will fly in the face of Simon Busuttil’s coalition against corruption. 

Incidentally the PN has been putting on a brave face saying that it has always considered the possibility of a 2017 election and is prepared for it. Whether this is just the PN foolishly behaving as if its financial problems are over, the truth remains to be seen. But there is no doubt that a sudden election will put extraordinary strains on the PN’s financial situation. Insiders say that the PN is not in a position to spend the necessary money for a fully-fledged electoral campaign and a sudden recent spate of PN appeals for donations seems to confirm this. This could be another factor in Joseph Muscat’s cool and clinical calculations.

An election in the first two weeks of June is what is being touted. June is the last month of Malta’s turn to run the EU presidency and an election in June is hardly ideal from this perspective. Will Joseph decide that on the local political front, he has taken the most of what he could from the EU presidency and take the plunge?

One would also have thought that the election would be timed for just after an early budget – with everybody assuming it will be a very good ‘electoral’ budget. This is only possible with a November election. So the idea of a June election is not a good one from this aspect. Yet does Joseph Muscat hope to win more votes as a result of a very popular and populist budget? In the present circumstances, this hardly matters any more.

The dangers of the electorate voting in Joseph Muscat for another term are there for all to see. In the second term abuses are bound to increase and not decrease. The pressure for satisfying the irrational requests of supporters increases. The idea of a third term for Muscat becomes more remote as people would want yet another change and therefore the temptation to go for last ditch abuses would be even more intense than they are now. 

Second terms have always proved to be more difficult and tricky for any administration. Any hope of a second Joseph administration being more careful in the way it does things by avoiding blatant abuses is pie in the sky.

The more time passes, the more people realise this.

And this gives the Prime Minister yet another motivation for the decision of a snap election in June.

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