Things are changing all over Europe. This weekend was an eventful one with three major elections. The results there will not affect Malta in any material way. It’s still worth paying attention to the circumstances that led to these victories.
Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg held elections this weekend. As befitting the type of election all the issues were local. One message is clear – the electorate has had enough of establishment parties.
In Bavaria, Germany, the Greens came first in the major cities polling a total of 30% of the vote. They beat the equivalent of the Labour Party (PL) and the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). In Luxembourg the Greens won 23% and came second to the equivalent of the Nationalist Party (PN). In Brussels, Belgium, the Greens came second and may end up in power if they agree to a coalition.
Socialist parties lost everywhere. The electorate humiliated them in Bavaria where they garnered 1 vote in 10. In Luxembourg they had the worst result in a century.
Voter turnout was higher than usual which is a good sign. It also shows that voters will turn out to vote when there are real choices.
In a way this could happen in Malta. The people see the PL as hostage to big business that wants to break laws. The PN is in a mess of its own making. People see them as either corrupt or in league with the PL. If the electorate doesn’t see any difference between the two establishment parties then what is an intelligent voter to do?
The other parties in Maltese politics are the Democratic Alternative (AD) and the Democratic Party (PD). They could be options but it is hard to place them. Over the past 25 years AD has come across as opportunist and not a credible alternative which is a shame. I think the jury is still out on the PD. (Tip: Sometimes your press releases contain too much negativity to attract converts. Watch the tone guys because that makes a difference.)
Voters appreciate a real choice
What if we had to create a new party from scratch? What would such a party look like if it is to have any credibility in Maltese politics?
One of the first problems we have in Malta is identity politics. People do not describe themselves as “Labour party voters” or “Nationalist party voters”. They call themselves “Nationalists” or “Labourites”. Political affiliation is part of identity. Telling them ‘their’ party is wrong is akin to telling them their gender or eye colour is wrong.
I know I’m not describing you because you’re intelligent and don’t think this way. There aren’t that many of you in Malta, though, are there?
If a new party tries to rally around a label like ‘centrist’ or ‘liberal’ people will pigeon-hole it. They will call it “PN lite” or “pseudo-PL” or some such moniker. People will discard parties which don’t match their beliefs.
A new party should rally around a standard. It needs to define what it is for so it can distinguish itself from any other party. It needs to outline what it thinks about major issues. People who agree with a party’s thinking will start to feel close to it because their sense of identity isn’t violated.
This is vital – a new party must attract people who think in a certain way not who identify a certain way.
Coupled with this point, a new party cannot be a split of an existing party. People’s perception will be coloured if this is the case. In 1953 Mabel Strickland tried to form the Progressive Constitutionalist Party after having been made to resign from the Constitutional Party. They didn’t win any seats and the party was dissolved after the election in the same year. The Democratic Nationalist Party split from the PN in 1959 but disbanded in 1966. More recently, AD suffered by being a splinter group from one of the other parties even if few people today remember which party they split from.
This tackles the identity issue and is easier said than done.
What about its leadership?
Any new party needs credible leadership. This is so obvious I almost didn’t write it. The problem is it’s difficult to have leadership experience unless you already were one. Running for office is the one job in the world where a lack of experience doesn’t count against you.
A new party can’t assume ‘new’ is better. A new party needs a leader, someone who can inspire the crowds and who can lead by example. (I enumerated this as a skill a new party leader should have when I wrote about the PN’s leadership process.)
Part of this is being able to read a situation. With a favourable wind at its back a proper leader will take advantage of things to position the party front and centre.
Such a leader also needs to know where votes and parliamentary seats can be won. A new party must maximise its resources wisely because the electoral arithmetic is what it is.
Some of you are wondering why now should be any different. We’ve seen new parties emerge to limited success, so what’s different now?
I argue voters in Malta are ripe for a new party because of the current political climate. As I explained people are dissatisfied with the establishment. A charismatic leader of a fresh party which explains its intents and seizes the moment to focus its attention where it counts will be able to make a considerable difference.
Saying things will never change is unhelpful. It is hard to change things but things worth fighting for never come easy. Any new party taking a shortcut will not be able to survive.
A new party needs these things to survive.
What else would you want to see before you voted for a new party?
- 5 lessons from Europe’s busy electoral weekend; Ryan Heath; Politico.EU; 2018-10-14
- db Group ITS proposal approved by Planning Authority, despite thousands of objections; Kevin Schembri Orland; The Malta Independent; 2018-09-20
- 8 Interesting Things We Learned From Lovin Malta’s First Political Survey; Tim Diacono; LovinMalta.com; 2018-08
- Political parties of Europe; Vincent E McHale; Greenwood Press; 1983
- How to choose an election winning leader; Antoine Borg; Brain, not ego; 2018-08-29
All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.
Written by: Antoine P Borg
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