A race to the final hurdle

Like all other elections, the individual voter will be swayed by a wide variety of concerns... not just the concerns the two parties necessarily want them to focus on

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

This has been described as an election unlike any other; and in one respect, that is certainly true.

Regardless who wins on Sunday, the election will not, in itself, bring closure to the allegations of corruption that have overshadowed the campaign. The incoming government will still face the prospect of inquiry conclusions that may have serious repercussions on its ability to govern.

If Joseph Muscat (as polls predict) wins, and the inquiries confirm allegations of direct involvement in money-laundering... it would be a very short honeymoon for the new government. Likewise, the opposite inquiry conclusion will have serious repercussions on the PN’s credibility, and on Simon Busuttil’s political future.

The Maltese expression ‘it-tigrija sa’ l-ahhar barkun’ is apt in this context. This race will not be over this Saturday; there is a further hurdle to clear.

Nonetheless, despite this difference it remains an election and, like all other elections, the individual voter will be swayed by a wide variety of concerns... not just the concerns the two parties necessarily want them to focus on.

Ultimately, the decision to be taken by the electorate will be very much based on their own experiences as individuals. Most people will vote tribally; others will compare and evaluate the two parties’ track records. Some may have personal preferences among candidates, and would consider cross-party voting. Others will be persuaded on the basis of a single issue: be it governance (the issue of the campaign); hunting and trapping, bread-and-butter issues, etc. Other issues that seem to have been discarded by politicians – but not necessarily by voters - include immigration, the environment, jobs and the fair distribution of wealth.

New voters in particular will be attracted to the messaging and the priorities of the different parties. But there will even be some who will make up their mind only in the polling booth itself.

It would be unwise to base expectations only on one’s own perspective of a single issue – corruption – that may not, ultimately, prove the deciding factor in this election. There is, in brief, a danger that we may be attributing too much to the corruption allegations engulfing the present government, and forgetting or overlooking other factors that may also influence the result.

This overemphasis may also be accentuated through the social media: people on sites like Facebook tend to be exposed to politically likeminded views, and may come away with a very lopsided perspective; deceived into thinking that their own concerns are widely shared, when in fact they may not be.

This is cause for concern, as this campaign has also unleashed an all-too familiar element of fear and resentment between families and friends. The political tempo has once again been amplified, and – especially considering that the inquiry conclusions may take weeks or months – it will remain high even after the election.

Whatever the result, then, the new government will have to work to calm the situation down. If Simon Busuttil is elected he will have to ensure that reconciliation is a priority, and that he does not create more division but seeks consensus. This may be difficult, given how strained his relationship with Labour now is.

Joseph Muscat will face the same challenge, but if elected he will also have to ensure that governance is given a priority. It is undeniable that his closeness to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi has hurt him politically. He will have to somehow distance himself from both.

Unfortunately, none of the possible permutations of this election seem to offer us an easy ride. It was a short campaign by usual standards but one that will not be all over with the final count.