Weak third parties, and the Lowell 'phenomenon'

Malta is calling out for a third party with clear vision...Someone who can challenge the duopoly

"Moreover, in a bid to rally voters, Muscat changed tactics right in the middle of the campaign. While initially underplaying the importance of the result – presenting his party as the underdog of the campaign – towards the end of the campaign he expressed confidence in another landslide victory.

“He even went as far as to take the risk of portraying these elections as a choice between him and Busuttil. This could be interpreted as a move to underscore the importance of these elections among lukewarm Labour voters.”

That was what James Debono wrote in MaltaToday in 2014, and that was five years ago. It seems like a century ago, but it is only five years ago.

Since then Muscat has grown slimmer, won another landslide victory in the national elections and oversees one of the most successful economies in Europe.

He also faces an Opposition that is seriously undermined and plagued by infighting.

Joseph Muscat went on to win the European Parliamentary elections in 2014 with 53% of the votes but only clinched three seats out of six. He underplays the fact that his real aim is to exceed this percentage and clinch four seats, not three, this time around. He says that suggestions by the media of a four-seat landslide are meant to deflate his chances.

Today’s MaltaToday survey, suggests that the Labour party could increment on the last electoral result… unless there is something we are not yet seeing. Surveys can sometimes fail to pick up a muted public sentiment. MaltaToday surveys are held every month and have been held since 2002. They are traditionally reputable and close to giving the right indication and shifts in voter trends, but there are occasions when we have missed the writing on the wall.

Last time round in 2014, Debono stated in his analysis before the last parliamentary election, that “support for AD seems to be close to somewhere between 3% and 4% while support for the far-right oscillates between 1% and 2%. But support for third parties may be under- or over-represented in surveys due to the 4-point margin of error. Surveys also tend to under-estimate support for the far-right, as people may not be keen on any public association with notorious candidates like Imperium Europa’s Norman Lowell. This is because in surveys the world over, respondents are not likely to admit to what others may perceive as anti-social behaviour.”

And it seems that history will be repeating itself. Lowell, with his Nazi sympathy and anti-immigrant rhetoric, is coming back with some significant support.

He seems to appeal to two categories: men whose level of education suggests they are not necessarily in well-paid, skilled labour, but also people who see Islamophobia as a reference point and, of course, racists who will use their vote for protest. Norman Lowell contested his first European Parliament elections in Malta in 2004, obtaining 1,603 first-count votes; he contested once again the European Parliamentary elections in 2009 and received 3,559 votes.  In the 2014 MEP elections Lowell doubled his votes to over 7,300 votes – individually more than any of the two Green candidates – but not surpassing the total vote count for the Greens.

I would not be too surprised if Lowell increases his share of the vote again this time around and it could very well be that the protest vote, in this case from both Labour and Nationalist segments, could go his way. He may be a mediocre personality who delights in media outrage, but he is ideal for someone to send a protest vote to either the PN or PL.

The sad part of the story is the disjointed circus of small parties who stand for decency in politics. When one would have expected many to bury their hatchet and pride and join forces, the opposite happened. Talks between the PD and the Greens failed. And then there were the egos and infighting.

Now many voters have problems distinguishing or realising that Arnold Cassola is no longer a part of Alternattiva. Many voters are not media junkies and little do they do they know that Cassola fell out with his party over an innocent commentary by newcomer Mina Tolu for an open discussion on abortion in Malta, which led to Cassola calling on his party to ‘discipline’ Tolu. They didn’t and Cassola quit but said that he would still stand. That was vintage Cassola, but AD has been plagued by personality clashes from the very first days of its existence:  Peppi Azzopardi vs Wenzu Mintoff, Harry Vassallo vs Michael Briguglio, Briguglio vs Carmel Cacopardo, and Cassola vs Cacopardo.

Once again it appears that no attempt was made by either Cassola or Cacopardo to reconcile their differences in the interest of those who really believe that Green politics have a place in our democracy.

Tolu, in the Green Party, and Appelgren in the PD, are the brand new faces of third parties, but they have little media presence, and have a serious problem connecting with the native appeal of ‘Malteseness’ in politics. That’s a problem usually associated with language, and it is not something a candidate or political party should take lightly. Yet both AD and PD seem to have completely ignored this fact.

The Democratic Patry also has its own serious deficit on charismatic personalities. Martin Cauchi Inglott and Anthony Buttigieg from the PD are two candidates who may be well meaning but have serious issues when it comes to public speaking or are remarkably unclear when articulating an argument.

And former PL whip, now a PD parliamentarian elected on a PN ticket, Godfrey Farrugia, may have lost most of his appeal simply because many still see him as the shadow of his partner Marlene and as having entered parliament from the back door.

The other political formation from the far-right, the Patrijotti, seriously lacks any charismatic personality and undoubtedly, will lose out to Lowell, who will probably take the lion’s share of the racist vote.

What happens after the European elections is difficult to say.

It is already a mystery as to what will happen to Adrian Delia if the PN loses one of the three seats in the EP.

Malta is calling out for a third party with some clear vision, structured with a constructive critique of policies and led by people who can speak and present reasoned arguments. Someone who can challenge the duopoly. Unfortunately, the smaller groupings continue to put their personal ego before everything else and that is why most people will either vote for the major parties or else simply protest by not voting at all or casting the ballot for some looney candidate.

If the small parties continue to flounder, the only redemption will come from a powerful personality who can regroup these parties in a soul-searching exercise and lead a renewed affront on the establishment parties.

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