What next Saturday is all about

This has not been a very respectable campaign. As the campaign progressed, it appeared that the two sides had entrenched themselves and engaged in an aggressive stance in their approach. 

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

There is an old adage that says, if you don’t vote, someone else will.

Next Saturday thousands of Maltese and Gozitans are expected to vote. Traditionally turnouts in Maltese elections are high. The political parties have been rallying all month and they presented their political positions, projects and programmes. The similitudes between the two major parties is striking when it comes to proposals. But many voters have been distracted by the high-tension accusations across both sides of the political spectrum.

Previous elections campaigning over the removal of a tax (VAT) or Malta’s entry into the European Union could appear to have been clear-cut campaigns based on clear policies and programmatic stances. Other elections underlined the importance of continuity and a reluctance to return to the past.

There is no doubt that a lack of serenity has pervaded this bitter election campaign. Joseph Muscat kicked off a snap election as a result of a very serious and now well-publicised accusation started in a blog that his family owned a secret offshore company. The allegation was denied, and Muscat took the matter to a magisterial inquiry that has seen him place his credibility on the line. But the fact cannot be ignored, that going to the polls while this serious magisterial inquiry is ongoing, has been a controversial decision to say the least – with the prime minister seemingly turning the choice of government into a referendum about himself.

Muscat took a gamble, and in the process the Opposition stepped up a gear, taking him to task in an unrelenting manner, as befits any party aspiring to be in government and seeking to chip away at the credibility of the Labour government.

Serious allegations of corruption dog the Labour government; this fact alone is undeniable.

This has not been a very respectable campaign. As the campaign progressed it appeared that the two sides had entrenched themselves and engaged in an aggressive stance in their approach. The campaign veered from positive to negative and back again. Some political messages are so similar that onlookers are confused on their origin. On the social media, the bitterness has been evident for all to see, and the commentary toxic, accelerated by the climate of emergency that the Egrant allegations provoked.

The MaltaToday polls still show a Labour victory albeit reduced, but our polls also indicate that the result could be close. Surely enough, this election could be Muscat’s to lose despite a consolidation of his traditional voter base. Simon Busuttil’s campaign has not been lacklustre as might have been expected in a snap election: the energy of the PN campaign has given Labour a run for its money.

But after some 25 years in opposition and with only four years of governing, Muscat is desperate to defend his patch and argue that the benefits he has created far outweigh the mistakes he has committed. Simon Busuttil believes this is not enough because the political errors are so momentous that only a change in government will restore the people’s faith and the country’s future.

This newspaper has been clear about the institutional crisis that the mistakes of the Muscat government have precipitated. Muscat claims he has learnt from his mistakes, but the ultimate proof of this would have been his decision to sack his chief of staff Keith Schembri and minister Konrad Mizzi a year ago after the Panama Papers. In failing to do this he has deluded some potential important voters, and even allowed the Egrant affair to fester.

Busuttil has fired up his party, with the promise of a new way of doing politics. His only drawback is the fact that the votes he needs to win the next election next Saturday will only happen if there is a massive swing from Labour’s 36,000 landslide in 2013.

On governance Muscat has had an uphill battle with the spectre of Panama and the allegations of Egrant in the background. He has balanced this with a battle-cry based on his economic success story and his civil liberties reforms. Busuttil’s counter-move has been a national campaign for the removal of Labour, backed by a coalition that sees the fledgling Partit Demokratiku spearheaded by PL defectors Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia, take up space on the PN ballot sheet.

On Saturday the Maltese vote, and the journey to their vote will be different in every way possible. In voting they will take into account their personal experiences, their sentiments, their feelings for the country, their trust in political leaders, their personal economic advantage, their sense of community, and their sense of right and wrong, to finally come to a decision that will determine the next administration.

What is needed at this point in time is some serenity and respect for the voter. The majority of the electorate does not participate in political events or engage in social media abuse. The majority will decide from their own personal standpoint and from their appreciation of the facts. The next administration must know this, and remember that it is there to serve all the Maltese and Gozitans, and to uphold the aspirations of its citizens. That is what next Saturday is all about.