The plight of ‘homeless voters’

The Maltese electorate can be more or less divided in three segments. First we have those who vote Labour, either because they cannot fathom voting for anyone but Labour or because they see opportunity for personal gain in Labour.

Then you have those who foolishly believe that the PN in its current state is the answer to the country’s woes.

Finally, the smallest segment is made up of those who are orphans of bipartisanship with nowhere they can call home. This group is made up of people who have always rejected the dualism of Maltese politics or who for various reasons no longer feel represented by Labour or PN.

The easiest way for homeless voters to rock the boat is to back a third party. But as Partit Demokratiku are finding out, the system is skewed against small parties as Alternattiva Demokratika discovered some 30 years ago. The system is designed to keep third parties out of power.

People who are either unhappy or angry with the current state of affairs often have to choose whether to seek change from within or outside the system.

While both choices are equally noble in intent, many of those who have opted to change the system from within and decided to join one of the major parties often give up or allow themselves to be swallowed in the vortex of short-sighted partisanship and self-interest.

The few who resist the temptation to sacrifice their principles in the name of party loyalty and tribalism are left with no option. You’re either in or out. You either head for the exit door or you give in to the temptations.

I don’t blame them for feeling helpless. When Joseph Muscat was first elected to power in 2013 he had a once in a lifetime opportunity to uproot the system. His majority was so large he could have delivered the earthquake he promised upon being elected Labour leader in 2008.

He could have changed the electoral law and ensure that it is truly representative. He could have introduced a party financing law and free parties from the clutches of big business. He could have transformed the media landscape and remove the political parties’ control over the media. He had an opportunity to guarantee that the police force, Attorney General, the Broadcasting Authority, the FIAU and other state institutions are truly independent from the party in power.

He could have introduced measures to weed out corruption and abuse in planning permits, government contracts and civil service employment.

The Prime Minister could have stood up to powerful lobbies and implement bold policies which could have improved people’s quality of life by increasing the minimum wage, providing decent housing and ensure that workers are not left to their own devices in the spiralling race to the bottom.

Muscat was perfectly placed to find the courage to end the dependency on politicians, ban spring hunting, stop the cementification of the islands, reduce the number of cars on our roads, reform the educational system and shape new generations of critical and civic minded citizens.

But he chose not to. He chose to be bold in areas which did not cost him any votes. Parties do not compromise themselves in government but while in opposition because once you make a pact with the devil to get elected then you have to abide by the conditions. Otherwise you’ll burn on the opposition benches until you strike another pact with Beelzebub.

Muscat, like his predecessors does the bidding of the real owners of the land of mechanised cranes, slimy seas and dead storks.

We think we have freedom of choice because we can buy stuff we don’t need. We think we have freedom of choice because the market is free. But do we really have freedom of choice when it comes to choose who represents us in Parliament?

Those who opt to change the system from the outside are often left with the same bitter taste as those who fail at changing things from within. Civil society everywhere is plagued by fragmentation, protagonism, big egos and a lack of a coherent and long-term strategy.

If that is not enough to impede change, activists, trade unions, NGOs and to an extent small parties in Malta find it hard to escape the tribalism and whatever is said and done is misinterpreted as some sort of support or defence of one of the two mainstream parties.

Similarly to those who choose to change things from within, the temptation to call it a day is very strong for those who opt to stay outside the bipartisan system. Given the nature of the political system and Maltese society, chances of change happening in our lifetime are bleak.

But as long as people dream of a different (if not better) world, defiance and resistance will live on. Defeat is only tasted if you try doing something and long may the outcasts and losers of this world continue to seek change.

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