A choice between ‘mediocrity’, and ‘more mediocrity’ | Sandra Gauci

MaltaToday’s latest survey may have sent shockwaves through the political establishment; but for SANDRA GAUCI – ADPD’s candidate for next year’s MEP elections – it represents a clear sign that people are ‘fed up’ of traditional Maltese politics

There has been much discussion about our latest survey results: mostly focusing on its implications for the two larger parties. But the same survey also registered significant increases for smaller parties – including  ADPD – as well as (conversely) for the growing category of ‘non-voters’: now at an all-time high. Would you agree, then, that these results show that people are beginning to lose trust in the two-party system, as a whole?

People are not only losing trust in the two-party system; but also in the way things have generally always been done, here. 

Historically, there has always been this mentality of ‘choosing the lesser of the two evils’. Right now, for instance, one of the things I’m hearing a lot is: “Labour and PN both steal... but Labour steals more than PN, so let’s choose PN this time.” 

My idea, on the other hand, is: let’s choose someone who’s honest; and who doesn’t ‘steal’ from us, at all. But the reality is that people have always been ‘short-changed’, in the amount of choice they actually have. 

It’s never a choice based on ‘who is the best possible candidate, to bring about the changes that the people actually want’. It’s always a case of: ‘Let’s choose this or that party... only because the others are worse.’ 

In other words, the choice is always between ‘mediocrity’... and ‘even more mediocrity’.  

And I think that people are beginning to get tired of all that. Starting with myself: I’m 44 years old; which also means I practically grew up under the Nationalists, and have now experienced 10 years under Labour... and looking back, you can see that what those two phases actually have in common, is... “who is going to defraud the country, now?”

Because OK, it’s true that - when you compare the two - the PN was not quite as corrupt, as Labour is today. But still, it remains a common factor: there WAS corruption under the Nationalists – albeit not to the same extent – so it still remains a choice between ‘corrupt, and MORE corrupt.’ 

But is this really what we should all be aspiring towards? ‘Removing Labour, to replace it with PN’... so that we all end up ‘back at square one’?

I dont think so, myself; and most people, I would say, are now sick and tired of the same old system. They’re fed up of having to ‘choose the lesser of two evils’; and they’re fed up of consistently being ‘taken for a ride’. They want something different; and that is where we come into the picture...

At the same time, however: while ADPD increased its voter-share by 1.4% to 2.1%,  the non-voting population now stands at a record 24.8%. This partly validates your argument that ‘people are getting fed up with the entire system’... but then, why are so few of them actually turning to ADPD, as an alternative? Why are so many more choosing not to vote, at all?

Well, it’s understandable, up to a point. The last election was only a year ago; and it was another Labour landslide. So from the point of view of voters who feel ‘disenchanted’: it makes sense, at this point in time, for them to just withdraw from politics altogether. After all, Labour’s in power... and we’re going to have to put up with them, whether we like it or not, for the next four years... so why bother even getting involved?

If the survey came out a year BEFORE the next general election, on the other hand, it might have been a different  story. But right now, I can’t say I really blame people  for choosing to withdraw into their own little ‘bubble’ – even for the sake of preserving their mental health – and switching off from politics, entirely. 

Because that’s what some people are doing: more so now, that many are struggling with their own personal finances (let alone, with ‘keeping up with what’s going on in the country’.) They feel it’s better to just ‘go to work’; ‘take care of their own family’, and just stick with that, without getting involved in all the stress and hassle of politics. 

And I understand them completely; because even just ‘watching the news’, nowadays, in enough to takes a toll on your mental health. But it’s also a wake-up call for us, as ADPD, to actually reach out to those people. 

We all know that Malta always used to boast the highest voter-participation in elections, anywhere in the democratic world – with turn-outs of 92%, 93%, that would be considered ‘unheard of’, in any other country. So from that perspective, at least: the people have already taken that ‘first step’, of disengaging with the traditional two-party model. They have already ‘cut the umbilical cord’, as it were, from the Red-and-Blue mentality.

Now, it’s up to us to offer them that ‘wing’, under which they can seek protection. Because those people need protection, at the end of the day. They don’t feel protected by either Labour or Nationalist parties, any more. They only feel that they’ve been taken for a ride by both, for so many years...

And this time, I feel that ADPD is credible enough, to offer the sort of protection those people want. I know it’s the opposite of what a lot of people say about us – we’ve been called ‘naive’, ‘idealistic’; ‘out of touch with reality’, and so on... but in my own experience, in the two years since I’ve been ADPD: I haven’t seen any of these ‘unrealistic’ things, we’re accused of proposing. On the contrary, I’ve only ever seen policies, and proposals, that are entirely ‘doable’...

Perhaps, but they still haven’t convinced very many of those 28.4% non-voters (not to mention the separate category of undecideds). Why do you think ADPD finds it difficult, to actually get through to those people?

One difficulty, I find, is that the category we’re talking about is not a homogenous group of people. It’s not as though they’re all ‘liberal’, or all ‘conservative’; and even their reasons for not voting might be totally different from one another.

So what we need to do, as a party, is find the common ground that unites them. It’s like the ‘Ven Diagrams’ we used to do at school: when different circles ‘intersect’ which each other.

And in this particular diagram, the ‘common intersection’ is the fact that - regardless what else they might disagree upon – all those different groups agree that... ‘they don’t want things to remain the same’. They don’t want ‘another five years of Labour, after 2027’; and neither do they want to go back to ‘the same old Nationalist Party, of before 2013’.

The common factor, then, is that they all want something different; and we need to push on that. We need to work on transmitting the idea that, ‘Yes, things can change’. It doesn’t have to always be a ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ choice; we CAN choose something which is honest; caring; and sympathetic to the people. 

And I think that ADPD is already a voice for those people who have been ignored totally, in all these years; and whose interests have consistently been sacrificed on the altar of greed; the altar of corruption; the altar of ‘Economic Growth’, etc.

Where are those people ‘represented’, in any sphere of public life? Who is actually standing up for the honest, law-abiding, ordinary Maltese citizens... the people who do things properly, by the book, without any ‘stealing’ or ‘defrauding’?

Nobody is there, right now, to voice the concerns of those people. And we would like to be that voice, speaking on their behalf...

You just said that people ‘don’t want another Labour government after 2027; but don’t want a return to pre-2013 PN, either’. Isn’t there a danger, though, that both Labour and PN might end up moving even further to the right? Until recently, for example, Labour was pushing through a controversial amendment to the abortion law. But with its popularity plummeting, this is likely to be withdrawn. Are you concerned that Malta may start regressing on civil liberties?

I’m very concerned, yes: especially considering that in Malta, we haven’t even begun to take into consideration certain feminist issues, like abortion. It’s as though we Maltese women have remained stuck where we were, back in the 1970s. Nothing much has changed, since then; and nothing is really going to change for us now, either. 

As women, we know that we will have a misogynistic way of governing, whether under a Labour or Nationalist administration.

So again, it’s a question of ‘giving a voice’ to those who are ignored. And in this case, we’re talking about women: a category that amounts to half the population. As ADPD, then, we have to be the ones to say, ‘Hey, women count too, you know! We need to have a strong female voice. We cannot just keep placing women’s issues on the backburner... just because it makes certain people uncomfortable to discuss them.’

And that includes the amendment to the abortion law. This is not something you can simply withdraw from the agenda, just because it’s going to cost you votes. What about women’s right to healthcare? What if another case [like Andrea Prudente] happens again...?

And besides: of all the things Robert Abela could have ‘changed’, in order to try and regain those lost votes...  was ‘female issues’ the only thing he could come up with? Is that what he thinks is costing him so much popularity, right now? 

I would say there are a lot of other things he could be prioritising, before deciding to ‘sacrifice’ women’s rights. For example: he could have dealt better with the Steward case, in yesterday’s parliamentary debate. That is the sort of thing that might actually have won him a bit of approval, at the moment. 

But no. Not only did he behave like a child, throughout the session; but he actually took the side of Steward, even at a time when that company was making highly defamatory accusations about our own country. 

On the same day as Steward publicly claimed, on their website, that ‘you cannot do business with the Maltese government’... instead of defending Malta’s reputation,  the Prime Minister chose actually defend Steward itself: by listing out all its supposed ‘investments and achievements', in Parliament!

And it’s exactly the same with other issues, too: such as development. The government never shows strength, by standing up to the construction lobby, in defence of the ordinary Maltese citizen. It’s always the other way around...

That brings me to another question about our survey results. The timing suggests that the Steward court ruling may have been the main catalyst, for this apparent reversal of Labour’s political fortunes. But was it the only one? How much of this sudden decline do you think is also attributable to Malta’s environmental degradation, in recent years?

It's a bit of both, I would say. The Steward case was certainly the ‘cherry on the cake’; but then again, ‘environmental degradation’ is something that people see, touch, and come into contact with, every single day of their lives. 

It is a tangible daily reality, to all those who live in close proximity to a construction site; or wherever roads are suddenly closed from one day to the next, with no planning whatsoever. 

With the Steward contract, on the other hand: the figures of ‘E400, E500 million’ might sound like a huge sum...  but you can’t ‘touch’ them; you can’t ‘feel’ them;  and as far as most people are concerned, those figures exist only ‘in the abstract’.

So in practical terms: while the Steward case may have provided a focal point, for all that anger... people ultimately feel a lot angrier, about the things that affect them directly, on a daily basis. 

And yes, I think that the construction issue does play a large part, in the Labour Party’s... shall we call it, ‘downfall’. Because time and again, Labour has clearly shown that it’s always on the side of the construction industry; and NEVER on the side of the people whose lives are made miserable through construction.

Nowhere was this clearer, by the way, than in the case of Jean-Paul Sofia [who died in a construction fatality last December]. Why is the government so hell-bent on not holding a public inquiry? What is Robert Abela trying to hide...?

I think I can guess; but you asked the question already, so... why do you think Robert Abela is so keen to avoid a public inquiry in the Sofia case?

Well, I think it’s because he’s trying to hide all the ‘shortcomings’ in how our national institutions actually function: the same ‘shortcomings’ that were separately identified by the recent inquiry into the femicide of Bernice Cassar; and even by the Daphne Caruana Galizia public inquiry. 

Both those inquiries had concluded, in no uncertain terms, that the Maltese state was responsible for the murders of Daphne, and Bernice – and for the same reason: because of the repeated failure of national institutions, to function as they should. 

So now, can anyone seriously expect Robert Abela to allow yet another public inquiry, into yet another fatality: knowing full well that it will only find his own government guilty of exactly the same shortcomings, for the third time in a row? 

That is what Robert Abela is trying to hide; and that, I think, also explains why his party has lost so much popularity, recently. Because people can see with their own eyes, that there’s no one actually defending the victim, in these cases; and that the only people this government ever defends, are the usual bunch of ‘criminals and delinquents’.

Small wonder, then, that so many people are now getting ‘fed up’...