Malta will be a different country after 25 May

Muscat’s position is so utterly unassailable today, that he can even joke smugly about resigning if he loses this election


Let’s be clear about one thing.  If a recent Politico survey turns out to be accurate, and the Labour Party emerges from this European election with 70% of the national vote… it will be the end of Malta’s political landscape as we have known it since at least the 1970s (not to say ‘since Independence’, as I missed that event by around seven years).

There is, of course, room to argue that we’ve long already reached that stage: reliable surveys already indicate that the ‘balance’ that has always characterized Malta’s two-party apple-cart has been well and truly up-ended. One of those two party has spontaneously combusted before our very eyes, and – unlike any previous ‘imbalance’ I can remember - the other party seems to have reaped almost all the resulting harvest of disillusioned, disenfranchised and politically ‘homeless’ voters.

This has quite frankly never happened before: at least, not in my lifetime. There have been many instances where one or the other party could be seen to have haemorrhaged support: examples include Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici in 1992, Eddie Fenech Adami in 1996, Alfred Sant in 1998 and Lawrence Gonzi before 2013.

But at no point in recent history has one party’s loss ever translated so directly and so utterly into the other party’s gain; and I’m pretty certain that neither of the two main parties has ever lost as much as 25% of its core voter-base before.

What we are witnessing today is quite frankly unprecedented, in both scale and substance. It is not just a case of the ‘Nationalist Party struggling to find its feet after a humiliating defeat’ – as practically all the PN exponents I’ve interviewed have suggested to date. Since 2013, the PN has lost two general elections, one European election, two rounds of local council elections; and now looks set to lose a second European election, and another round of local council elections… all by even bigger margins than before.

Nor is this a case of the new leadership facing ‘teething problems’ (the other standard excuse you hear from the Stamperija these days). Unless the Nationalist Party’s teeth take a good deal longer to grow than everyone else’s… the time for ‘teething problems’ is now firmly over. Adrian Delia was elected party leader in September 2017, on a very specific promise to turn the party’s electoral fortunes around. Twenty months later, he has not only failed to make a dent in the polls… but he has somehow managed to practically double the PN’s electoral deficit. From a 36,000 vote-difference in 2013, which grew to 40,000 in 2017… he now faces the likelihood of anywhere between 60 and 70,000 votes separating the two parties after 25 May.

If this happens – which, admittedly, it might not: there are, after all, four weeks to go before the election – then clearly, it would be delusional to carry on talking about Malta as having a ‘two-party system’. Something tells me that ‘25 May 2019’ will enter the history books as a turning point for Malta’s political future. And the new direction may not be something to look forward to very keenly, either...

But there is more to this transformation than the total annihilation of the National Party. Malta has also experienced the birth of an entire constellation of tiny, microscopic little political ‘entities’… which have only managed to further fragment an already rudderless Opposition into a million, dissenting and cacophonic voices (most of which, in any case, seem more intent on opposing each other, than the party in government).

Even a long-established political presence like AD – which never managed to get as much as 3% of the vote in a general election - has somehow managed to ‘split’ in the last year: with Arnold Cassola’s independent candidature ensuring that it will now get even less support than usual in this election.

Meanwhile we have a ‘new’ party, the PD: whose two MPs are basically recycled faces from both the two main parties; and whose true nationwide support – i.e., uninflated by any shambolic ‘coalition’ – will most likely be soon revealed for the delusion it really is. 

Elsewhere we have a whole bunch of fringe parties like Patrijotti Maltin and Imperium Europa (both of which, by the way, are set to eat further into the PN’s slice of the pie… now that Delia has so unwisely courted the racist, anti-immigration vote); and single-issue lobby groups like Occupy Justice and ‘Repubblika’,  which are basically splinter-groups for disgruntled Nationalists (and therefore a much bigger headache for Adrian Delia, than for Joseph Muscat).

In a nutshell, everything that has happened since 2013 has only conspired to strengthen Labour to superhuman levels; whilst pretty much demolishing any semblance of a united, coherent Opposition. And perhaps the most bizarre aspect of this entire political horror-movie, is that all the parties/entities responsible for this cataclysmic disaster – from the mainstream, to the new  – have chosen to doggedly stick to the only strategy they seem to know… and which has directly resulted in the present situation they are all in today. 

So it’s not simply that these political amateurs have been outwitted and outflanked at every conceivably turn by the vastly more compact and organized Labour Party – though this, too, must form part of the diagnosis. No, they’re in this mess because of their own obsession with a failed political strategy that is already responsible for four electoral defeats on the trot… and will very soon cause another two.

Time and again, the PN and its multifarious offshoots have proved incapable of doing the one thing any political party must do, in order to survive: take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and redefine their strategies accordingly.

And yet… it really isn’t all that difficult, you know. Even Joseph Muscat managed (and just look how many of his opponents still describe him as ’stupid’, though he’s wiped the floor with them more times than I can even count). For let’s face it: Muscat’s position is so utterly unassailable today, that he can even joke smugly about ‘resigning if he loses this election’. But he had little to be smug about back in 2008… when he inherited a fragmented, squabbling and internally explosive party, which had lost seven elections in the preceding 30 years.

As I recall, Muscat was even criticized at the time for going ‘AWOL’:  we had a new Opposition leader who made almost no public appearances, and issued hardly any public statements, for almost a whole year after being elected. (Remember all the ‘Chi L’Ha Visto?’ jokes on Facebook?) With hindsight, it was fairly obvious why Muscat spent that first year of his locked away behind closed doors at Mile End.  He was busy restructuring the Labour Party: giving it a new vision, after a decade and a half of Alfred Sant.

And if my example is ‘too Labour’ for you… well, Eddie Fenech Adami did exactly the same thing in 1977, after taking over from George Borg Olivier (who had been party leader since 1950). Actually, I’d say it was a whole lot harder for Eddie than for Joseph: there was no time for any ‘closed-door business’ in 1977… when the country was on the brink of conflagrating in a fireworks display of violence. Eddie did all his restructuring in public. We all saw how he changed that party – ideologically, structurally, etc. – and we also saw how the new, improved PN went on to (technically) win the 1981 election after only four years, and almost every other election after that until 2013.

How did Eddie Fenech Adami do it, you might ask? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t by maintaining Borg Olivier’s policies, which had already lost both the 1971 and 1976 elections on the trot.

But that was 1977, and this is 2019. And oh look: the Opposition is doing the precise opposite of what led to that spectacularly triumphant string of past PN victories. Honestly: how on earth can they expect anything but the total annihilation of their own party… when even their own party history spells it out to them, in no uncertain terms?

In any case, however: that is the situation as I see it today. It is pretty clear to me how the Opposition got itself into this pickle. What remains to be seen is… will it there be any chance – any chance at all – of ever getting out of that pickle, at any point in the next century after 25 May 2019?

I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. Stranger things have been known to happen.  And even if I myself don’t realistically see any hope of the PN ever recovering, given how severe the apartheid between its warring factions has now become… something also tells me necessity will once again become the mother of invention. It may give birth to a new political party to replace the PN; heck, it may even result in the unthinkable… a PN we can all actually vote for again, like the good old days.

But something will have to arise to fill this vacuum. It would be too dangerous otherwise. In that ‘smugness’ I alluded to earlier, I saw more than just the cocky self-assurance of a successful, unopposed politician. Muscat has already declared his intention to step down ‘soon’… and while I don’t mind admitting that I have misgivings about that: it’s too much like ’changing horses in midstream’ for my liking… well, I wouldn’t want to see what more than 10 years of absolute power might do to a man like Joseph Muscat, either.

By the same token, I wouldn’t want to see how it would affect his successor (especially not if it’s who I’m thinking it will be); or, indeed, anyone at all. Besides: it would be a travesty of the democratic process, if Malta’s ‘alternation of power’ only ever occurred because a Prime Minister decides to step down on his accord… to be replaced by someone else from the same party... and not because he was voted out of office by the electorate.

That might have been what passed for ‘democracy’ in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall… and I think it’s safe to say that it’s not the kind of democracy any of us would realistically want to live in today.

But it is almost certainly what our democracy will look like after 25 May 2019…. unless, that is, ‘Necessity’ gets herself pregnant pretty damn quick, and its ‘invention’ is born around 8.9 months premature.

Well, that’s not looking very likely at the moment… is it, now?

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