With the election fever of last June finally over, you’d think that it would be a long time yet before someone mentioned the dreaded words “general election” again. But alas, here I am to shatter those dreams. You’re going to ask, how can I possibly speak about Malta’s next general election, which is due in 2022, now, five years prior? Well, each of Malta’s political parties are looking at a crossroad – either now, or in the near future – that will most certainly have a huge effect on which way the upcoming election swings. Without further ado then, we’ll take a look at the situation within each party.
The best place to start is Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party, who currently occupy the seat of government. Following another resounding victory last June, their position in power is now stronger than it ever was before.
Labour find themselves in this position of course due to a number of reasons. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you about how the Nationalist government was internally fracturing; how Malta was still recovering from a global recession, how the Maltese people just generally wanted change and a whole host of other reasons. A lot of people however seem to discount one important aspect of Labour’s rise; Joseph Muscat himself. Dr. Muscat has over the years built himself into a sort of cult figure amongst his supporters. Whilst it’s not exactly Dom Mintoff or Eddie Fenech Adami cult status; it is nonetheless a strong one.
This leads me to the one significant crossroad that Labour face soon. Dr. Muscat has already said that he will not contest the next general election. This obviously opens the door for a replacement, and quite possibly, a new Prime Minister. It’s here though that, despite their majority, Labour must act carefully. They need someone who can continue on the work that Dr. Muscat & Co have done, and to do so with such a charisma that can gather the support of the masses. If they don’t find someone who can do that, whilst the majority may be big now, you never know what may happen if they are faced with an organised opposition (more on that below) – just ask Theresa May…
This being said, I do think that Labour have a good pool of potential leaders to choose from. Chris Fearne and Ian Borg may both be a good fit, whilst MEP Miriam Dalli may also be a strong bet for the future. Though you never know, maybe we’ll see someone come straight out of left field to take over – a bit like the man I’m going to talk about next…
It’s fair to say that the past few years have been a disaster for the Nationalist Party. They dragged Malta through the financial crisis of 2007/8 – a crisis widely recognised as being the worst since the Great Depression – but at the cost of clinging to government with a slim majority and an increasingly divided party. The natural cycle of change meant that an election loss was inevitable sooner rather than later.
However, surely nobody within the party would have expected two landslide defeats in a row. Fact of the matter however is that, despite having a leader who would probably have made a decent enough Prime Minister, the party itself never got over its past divisions. Indeed, the problem is that it STILL hasn’t. Some people within the party have such a superiority complex around them and their ideas that they fail to see beyond the ideas that propelled the PN to countless electoral victories in the past and think that no real change is necessary.
Indeed the party had a big choice last weekend – picking their new leader. They had two markedly different options to choose from who represented two different things. Dr. Chris Said would have been very much a continuation of the past – a person with similar characteristics to the outgoing Simon Busuttil. However, the PN members didn’t choose Said – they chose Dr. Adrian Delia. Delia is very much a shout in the dark in this scenario. A man who has never been involved in politics before, and markets himself as being “anti-establishment” – he is in many ways a different kettle of fish to anyone the PN have had in the recent past.
This is the crux for the PN. There is no doubt that they needed someone who would come up with a new way of doing things – the question now is whether Delia is the person who can fill that role. For sure Delia would bring change to the party’s approach – but for his work to be successful; the first thing he needs to do is to unite his own party behind him. Before the PN is united behind its leader, there is no tangible hope of making significant inroads into the Labour Party’s majority – let alone even thinking about winning an election. Delia has already faced allegations and issues during his electoral campaign – from the fact that he doesn’t have a seat in parliament (which has now been solved) to issues related to mis-handled proxy votes and even to accusations of dodgy accounts on overseas islands; but his foremost battle has to be that of keeping his party from going through a division which could even rival the Boffa-Mintoff division back in the 1950s.
One party which may be in a very good position to take advantage of any such division could be the orange Democratic Party. With the result of last June’s election, they became the first party that isn’t the PN or PL to win parliamentary seats (even though *technically* they are in parliament representing the Nationalist Party) since 1962.
Despite this however, even in this camp there is a certain element of disarray, after leader Dr. Marlene Farrugia, stepped down from her post earlier this summer. A lot of people have criticised her for this move – comparing her to Nigel Farage and his decision to get out of politics as soon as the Brexit vote he had campaigned so much for passed. In my opinion though, this is the best thing she could have done for the party.
This is by no means a criticism of her as a politician – far from it in fact. However, PD in my opinion need be led by someone who presents the party as an actual alternative to the main two political parties on the island. Dr. Farrugia has too much baggage from both sides to do that properly. The re-emergence of former deputy leader Dr. Anthony Buttigieg along with Timothy Alden as a candidate for party leader is perfect in this regard. Quite a few people are sick of what they call the “political establishment” but feel that they have no viable alternative to turn to instead, aside from Alternattiva Demokratika (more on them in a bit).
This is where the Democratic Party has to come in. They are in a great position to prove their credentials in parliament and to also take advantage of those disgruntled by either party; especially those disgruntled or alienated by the result of the PN’s leadership contest. Now they just have to take advantage of that position.
Alternattiva are something of an oddity in Malta politics. They’re always there, but at the same time they never really are. Ever since its inception, AD have on the most part fielded good, forward looking proposals; but for one reason or another they haven’t been able to entice the Maltese public into voting for them.
There are obviously a number of factors as to why this is the case, some of which are AD’s fault and some which aren’t; however the fact at the moment is that AD need to change something or risk being thrown out of the political frame entirely.
The fact that in the last election the Greens lost over half the votes they got in the 2013 election, despite what’s left of the Maltese countryside being essentially violated in every orifice by the construction industry, makes the election result an abject failure for them. The fact that the Partit Demokrattiku won 2 seats in their first election as a minor party, something that AD have been attempting to do for the past 30 years, doesn’t make for good reading either.
In reality, AD need a strong, young leader who can make the party appealing to the average voter and at the same time not be as much of a loose cannon as former leader Professor Arnold Cassola was. Such a person would surely improve the fortunes of the party – it is no coincidence that their best result came under the leadership of Dr. Michael Briguglio – who was just as described above.
What AD have gotten however is veteran Carmel Cacopardo instead, having been announced last week as the only contender for the position of party chairman. With a potential fracture and a lot of alienated people within the PN, this is a golden opportunity for AD to finally win a seat in parliament and battle it out with PD as Malta’s third party. However, for them to do that, I think there needs to be change within the party away from political veterans and towards a new, younger class of aspiring politicians. PD have two very pro-environment candidates for the position of party leader and if AD don’t get their act together – they risk losing even the environmentalist vote to their opponents, and as a result seeping even further away into insignificance.