Not a deliberate strategy, but indicative nonetheless

The decrease in the number of PN candidates in some localities may be more revealing of other political realities of relevance to this campaign and is probably more indicative of the party's general weakness

In a recent press conference, the Labour Party accused the PN of attempting to deny thousands of people the chance to vote in local council election, by deliberately fielding 100 fewer candidates than the PL for the upcoming election in May.

Party president Daniel Micallef implied that the PN was adopting the tactic employed by Joe Saliba in 2005: when the party deliberately pulled out candidates in Zejtun and Marsa, to ensure that no election took place, and guarantee a better overall percentage at the final count.

Like many other ploys that crop up at election, this one is at best misleading.

An analysis by sister paper Illum has shown that the Nationalist Party fielded just enough candidates to fill the present number of minority seats in five Labour-controlled localities: namely Gharb, Kirkop, Qormi, Ta’ Xbiex and Xaghra.

It also fielded a single candidate in four other localities, namely Ghaxaq, M’Xlokk, Dingli and Xghajra.

In five other councils, the PN presented more candidates than required to fill the current number of minority seats, but fewer than it had presented in 2015 and 2013.

The Labour Party only fielded fewer candidates in Attard; where it had only elected two candidates in the last election.

It also fielded a single candidate in only one locality (Mdina): where, for the third consecutive time, no election will take place.

The PL has also fielded two candidates in Swieqi and San Lawrenz, the same as in 2015, and two in Balzan (one more than in the last election). 

Clearly, then, it is not the case the PN wanted to deny elections in 21 Labour leaning localities, as claimed by Labour. 

The use of this tactic cannot be excluded in the nine localities where the PN presented a bare minimum of candidates. If so, however, the tactic was unsuccessful, as Labour fielded enough candidates to ensure that the election goes ahead.

In any case, employing such a tactic does not make much sense in a scenario where all Malta will also be voting in MEP elections: which means that the PN has no way to avoid a result which shows a true picture of its true nationwide support-levels.

Nonetheless, the decrease in the number of PN candidates in some localities may be more revealing of other political realities of relevance to this campaign.  

In itself, the reduced PN presence at local level is arguably more indicative of the party’s weakness in general, than of a deliberate strategy to deny elections in southern part of Malta.

For example: in the large locality of Qormi, where the PN’s general secretary Clyde Puli once served as mayor, the number of PN candidates has shrunk from 6 to 4, which is exactly the number of councillors the party elected in 2015. 

This suggests that the PN has lost any hope of winning back this locality, and possibly others too.

Although this may reflect the difficulties faced by opposition parties in finding candidates, especially in localities where there is little chance of being elected, it also suggests that the party has not resolved its southern problem which exists at both local and national level.

Instead, the PN may have well decided to focus on localities where it stands a more realistic chance of success.  

But in so doing, the party may demoralize its supporters in southern localities, thus further strengthening Labour’s hold in its heartlands.

This suggests that the Delia leadership has not only failed to arrest the decline in these localities, which has been ongoing since 2008, but has made the situation worse.

No further obstacles to Panama enquiry

In a court ruling on Monday, Magistrate Doreen Clarke’s decided to widen an existing inquiry into 17 Black to also include the Panama Papers.

Originally requested by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, an inquiry into money laundering allegations against Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri will now be conducted within the confines of another inquiry started last year.

A previous request had been resisted by Mizzi and Schembri, and the Court of Appeal threw out the case last January.

Given that these allegations have been circulating since circa Februay 2016, it is little short of astonishing that an investigation would have encountered so many obstacles.

A magisterial inquiry should have been launched immediately – as is the norm in all such matters – and then, if necessary, this could develop into a police investigation and possible charges.

Prime Minister Muscat’s reaction was to reaffirm that the magistrate’s decision is simply a continuation of a process that was already under way and - if anything - it was proof that there had been no attempts to whitewash the news and public opinion in any manner.

This is not entirely accurate: the process he refers to was an investigation into 17 Black – not specifically into Mizzi and Schembri – and Clarke’s decision must also be viewed in the context of an apparent institutionalised failure to properly investigate this matter from the outset.

Nonetheless, it is now to be hoped that this inquiry - and all the others – will finally be allowed to run their course without any further appeals and objections.

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