A vision of one’s own

We do not know much else about the new Democratic Party, besides its leadership

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

The creation of the Partit Demokratiku is a welcome addition to a political scene that has grown stale and is in need of a breath of fresh air.

Part of the problem concerns the simple fact that Malta has been dominated by the two major parties for far too long. When critics refer to the current stalemate in terms of ‘PL-PN’, they refer to more than just collusion between the two parties. Lurking beneath the surface is also a state of mind that perceives things only in terms of ‘blue’ and ‘red’.

The two parties themselves may have no difficulties operating through that prism: but it is now undeniable that a growing section of the population is tired – with just cause – of the Labour-PN duopoly. The need for credible alternatives to both is palpable; this is partly the inevitable consequence of a changing society, and also of the fact that the two parties offer little in the way of genuine distinction in their own approach to politics.

It is painstakingly clear that the red-blue dynamic is not working, and as such the inclusion of the colour orange (alongside green, which has existed for years) can be seen as a response to a growing desire for genuine political change.

It remains to be seen, though, whether a new colour alone will address the root cause of the problem. The Partit Demokratiku’s leadership includes MP Marlene Farrugia and a few prominent people in civil society. Certainly, it enters the lists with a relatively high-powered and energetic team.

However, we do not know much else about the new party. The colour itself tells us little: orange has been used by a variety of parties of different hues and creeds, from Christian Democrats to Liberals, the Ukrainian revolution in 2004 and the Pirate Party in Germany.

It is as yet unclear what sort of ideology and vision the new party will subscribe to. Farrugia has gone on record saying that the Partit Demokratiku will be a centre-left party. But the party’s political platform remains unknown, as the party’s structures are still at an embryonic stage.

Ideological differences between the two major parties are at best illusionary, with the two parties constantly striving – mostly through their own media – to turn the political battle into a Presidential one. This suits the purposes of two parties that no longer identify themselves with any clear ideological beliefs at all. It sits less easily with a party that represents a challenge to the same duopoly.

Another problem is that a similar approach has been tried before. The Green Party has valiantly survived a lopsided playing field, and the continuous onslaught by the PN and Labour, for almost 30 years. But nowadays the party lacks a clear vision and is in need of a thorough make over and generational change in its leadership direction.

Even at its freshest and most crisp, however, AD failed to ever register more than 2% of the national vote. Other non-mainstream parties and individual candidates have fared even worse.

It is now clear that the electorate, or at least a part of it, is no longer happy voting for hotchpotch parties or rainbow coalitions which attempt to be everything for everyone. Such a minority yearns for politics and parties with strong affirmative identities based on fundamental values, and with the necessary infrastructure in place to deliver the promised change.

The Orange Party will have to take this message on board if it is to succeed where others have failed. Much hangs in the balance, too. Whatever one makes of the new party, it is true that we need to evolve beyond a winner-takes-all mentality, to a truly pluralistic political situation in which parties are inclusive and open to building alliances, with the aim of bringing about real reform.

Ultimately, a successful ‘third’ party must be more than an alternative to the two-party system by mimicking the PN and Labour. It must also have a vision of its own.

A brief look beyond our shores shows that there are two comparable political phenomena happening at the same time. The rise of the far-right, and the growing appeal of grassroots leftist politics, best represented by Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. 

The new party should adopt clear policies on issues such as tax evasion, the environment, the minimum wage, the welfare system, pensions, immigration, good governance, civil rights, party financing, broadcasting, etc., and explain what kind of economy they want for the country.

Voters can never fully agree with a party’s political platform, but they deserve to know where a party stands. Vagueness and opportunism are after all what led us to where we are today.

Ideological boundaries can be restrictive if they underline sectarian identity; but they could also be empowering if rooted in the wider aspirations of the progressive and radical part of civil society.

The key challenge is how (and if) parties with similar goals can work together through democratic means, and how these can oppose a system which for too long has sacrificed social and environmental justice on the altar of profit and power.

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