Let’s avoid the antagonism of 2017, and play a fair game

Malta’s last general election was characterised by a dark cloud of antagonism which had not been experienced for some time. Perhaps we need to chill

A Nationalist Party mass meeting in 2017. Photo: James Bianchi
A Nationalist Party mass meeting in 2017. Photo: James Bianchi

To date there are many valid approved and prospective candidates for the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections in Malta. There are differences in political affiliations, personal styles and prioritized issues, and this helps give choice to the discerning and reflexive voter.

Such pluralism is a basic characteristic of western liberal democracy. Dialogue and diversity among candidates can help enrich the political imaginary and is a preferred alternative to one-dimensional authoritarian politics.

However, I think that it is very important that electoral participants abide to clear parameters which are based on decency and respect within a pluralistic framework. This refers not only to financial resources and access to the media, but also to the everyday communication used in the run-up to the elections.

In this regard, I appeal to all fellow candidates, parties, journalists and activists to commit themselves to a decent campaign. Malta’s last general election was characterised by a dark cloud of antagonism which had not been experienced for some time, and perhaps we need to chill towards a framework of agonism: where we see each other as adversaries, not enemies, and where we respect basic norms of democratic debate.

Indeed, exchanges between different opinions should be welcome, and I for one prefer this to distorted communication which focuses more on killing the messenger rather than the message. Unfortunately, the social media is full of examples of the latter, and here one finds quite a good number of anonymous trolls. Some excel in offensive language in comment boards and others create anonymous Facebook pages based on character assassination or dissemination of hate speech– although the originators are often recognisable. Some keyboard warriors do not even bother to hide behind anonymity or false profiles – if anything this does not show the merits of free speech but the lack of responsibility in a free-for-all context.

I believe that freedom of speech is devalued if it is not accompanied by responsibility: The latter relates not only to minding one’s language, but also to have a sense of proportion. We all have different talents, but it should be obvious that not everyone is an expert of everything. There is also a difference between evidence-based policies and social media rants after a bad day.

Healthy dialogue in the upcoming European elections should also mean that we listen to each other’s point of view. This does not only refer to candidates listening to what our adversaries say, but also to be politically active in a grounded way. This means actually listening to the concerns of the electorate and avoiding politics-of-the-ivory-tower as much as possible.

I also believe that finding common ground and seeking compromise is a sign of strength, especially due to the multifaceted and complex challenges we are facing today. Sometimes we have more questions than answers, sometimes we may not be asking the right questions, and sometimes we may be tempted to disagree with each other out of political convenience, and not because it is the right thing to do.

As an MEP candidate I pledge to base my campaign on respectful dialogue, evidence-based policy and on people’s politics. I pledge to combat hate speech, condescending language and crass sensationalism by rising above them

As an MEP candidate I pledge to base my campaign on respectful dialogue, evidence-based policy and on people’s politics. I pledge to combat hate speech, condescending language and crass sensationalism by rising above them. Let us respect people’s intelligence through decent politics.

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