What will the undecided decide?

The fact that many are still undecided does not reflect negatively about these individuals but speaks volumes about the two main political parties and the blind way people used to support them in the past

Following on the extraordinary number of switchers and abstainers in March 2013
Following on the extraordinary number of switchers and abstainers in March 2013

When the 2013 election campaign had arrived at the point where the current election campaign stands, there were few – if any – undecided voters. Indeed it seemed that the campaign was practically useless as the majority had decided that Malta needed a fresh approach as an alternative to GonziPN. Sometimes one got the impression that most efforts during the campaign were actually futile. The only question with an unknown answer was the size of the majority with which Labour was going to win – or conversely the size of the defeat that the PN was going to suffer.

There is no such sensation this time around. Many polls indicate an extraordinary percentage of undecided voters. Indeed, during the campaign the undecided tended to increase rather than decrease as they normally do, the more the actual election date approaches.

It is true that many are fed up with strangers phoning them and asking about their voting intentions. Others strongly feel that their voting intention is a personal matter not to be divulged to anyone. Many replies from respondents saying that they are undecided or that they do not want to reply to the question could be the result of this reality. 

But currently the number of respondents opting to say they are undecided is still unusual. As I already pointed out, it seemed that the undecided were increasing rather than decreasing, as one would expect. Is this because people are having second thoughts about their voting intentions?

All this makes for an interesting electoral campaign with everybody trying to guess whether the PN will manage to overtake Labour on June 3. Personally I do not think this will happen – but I do not think, either, that it is impossible.

Naturally people who vote for their party with a tribe-like loyalty, whatever the issues – and come hell or high water – are not ‘undecided’. But abstainers, floaters and switchers have become more and more important in Malta’s electoral tussles. People speak of switchers going back to the PN and many ignore the substantial number of traditional PN voters who in 2013 opted to abstain rather than switch to Labour.

Labour also knows that they have many disgruntled supporters and Joseph Muscat has been appealing for their vote in his speeches every Sunday. His repeated advice for Labour supporters to switch to other candidates of the same party from candidates who have disappointed them by not delivering what they promised, speaks volumes. To the extent that the advice has been turned on its head with people who have been disappointed with Joseph Muscat being told that, by Muscat’s own logic, they should opt for Simon Busuttil.

Busuttil knows that not all switchers and abstainers have returned to the fold. Whether they are objectively right or not, a good chunk of them still feel they cannot forget the way they were treated by the PN in government. Hence his promises that the PN will not repeat its past mistakes and his appeal insisting that this election matters more than others as it involves a choice regarding the standing of our country – whether it is a sober one that knows when the fine line is crossed and reacts when ethics are thrown to the dogs.

The battle is not yet over, because there are too many disappointed with the way they see the two parties working – both in government and in Opposition.

Expect a week where both parties will do their best not to lose those votes that they think are ‘naturally’ theirs – even though more and more people are despising this sort of attitude unconsciously exhibited by both parties.

There are many people today who feel they are free from the shackles of the absolute party loyalty that their parents and grandparents had always stuck to. They want to use their mind and come at a logical conclusion as to who they should support – not for life, but for every election.

The fact that many are still undecided does not reflect negatively about these individuals but speaks volumes about the two main political parties and the blind way people used to support them in the past.

Following on the extraordinary number of switchers and abstainers in March 2013, this seems to signal the beginning of the end of tribal politics as we have known it.

The Russian connection

There is never a dull moment on this blessed island – not even during a very calm electoral campaign. 

On Wednesday the Prime Minister revealed that he had been asked by journalists to comment on a report in a specialist journal ‘Intelligence Online’ that the British secret service, MI6, and its US counterpart, the Central Intelligence Agency, were ‘highly concerned’ that the Russian whistle-blower who made the Egrant ownership allegations was part of a move to destabilise the country on orders from the Russian government.

This smacks of a plot of some James Bond film and the Russian connection has been the subject of spoofs all over the social media ever since it surfaced.

Yet, there are some good reasons why the Joseph Muscat government finds itself in the Russians’ bad books. 

Surely Russia is not happy with Malta selling EU passports to some 400 Russian millionaires. Remember Muscat was first advised not to reveal the names of those who were to be granted Maltese citizenship in the so-called Individual Investor Programme (IIP). Neither was Putin pleased when Malta refused to refuel Russian warships going to Syria.

He is probably not happy either with Malta’s Presidency role in the acceleration of the EU visa waiver programme with Ukraine – although the timing of this development does not really fit in with the chronology of the Egrant allegations.

But does all this lead Russia to organise fake news in Malta in an effort to trip Muscat?

The idea sounds far-fetched and more than a bit dubious but the fact that Muscat decided to go public about it cannot be dismissed by spoofs using posters of James Bond films and clips purportedly showing Vladimir Putin playing the PN anthem on the piano.

Muscat faces a big problem – the allegation is being laughed off with Simon Busuttil saying that Muscat had lost the plot.

Ridicule is the bane of most politicians. Personal experience has taught me that being ridiculed for telling the truth could lead to despair.

Time for Joseph Muscat to keep a cool head.

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