We’re still months away from the general election, but my gut feeling is that we will have the lowest voter turnout in recent political history.
Since Independence, we have had 11 elections. It happened only once, in the first one in 1966, that the turnout was below 90 per cent (89.7 per cent, to be exact). In the following 10 polls, the number of voters who cast their preferences oscillated between the (lowest) 92.9 per cent in 1971 and the (highest) 96.3 per cent in 1996.
In my opinion, the next election – scheduled for 2018 – will see a sizeable drop in the percentage of voters, once again going below the 90 per cent threshold.
The reasons for this are there for all to see.
The Labour government has failed to live up to its pre-electoral promises of transparency and meritocracy, and is being hit with one scandal after another, while the Nationalist Party is still far from being in a position to propose itself as an alternative government.
Labour will win again, not as handsomely as it did in 2013, but not because it deserves it. It will win because someone has to.
There has been no other administration which has been involved in so many disgraceful issues, starting off with Café Premier, going on to Zonqor Point, Australia Hall, the Old Mint Street property and Panamagate and now the Libyan medical visas controversy. The hysterical way in which the pro-Labour media tried to spin this latest storm to raise doubts on Simon Busuttil’s leadership exposed the government’s desperation.
The above crises, by the way, are just a few of the challenges Joseph Muscat has had to face. If I had to name the rest I would go far beyond my self-imposed word count.
For its part, the Nationalist Party’s 2013 wounds have not healed. The party has not yet managed to win the confidence of many of those who turned their backs to it. It has taken some wrong decisions too, such as when it let an innocent man go while defending others who are guilty. It has recovered some ground, but not enough.
Now, the traditional Labour and Nationalist voters will still vote for their party, come what may. This is a sizeable chunk of the electorate. But my reading of the situation is that there is a growing number of people who are not happy with either side, including voters who chose to give Joseph Muscat a chance.
Many of the so-called floating voters, or switchers, are disappointed with Muscat because he let them down and did not keep his promises. They will not vote for Muscat again, but whether they will switch back to the PN as it is today is not a foregone conclusion.
History has told us that the small political parties have little impact on a national level. Alternattiva Demokratika remains anchored below two per cent, and Marlene Farrugia’s new party is still too much of an unknown quantity.
Added to this is the indifference shown by younger generations to all that is political. An example of this was the Brexit vote in the UK, and I believe that the situation is not different in Malta. The young people of today are more interested in searching for a Pokemon than planning for their future.
And so I anticipate that the number of people who will not cast their preference in the next election will be the highest in half a century.
They will opt not to vote at all – which is a vote in itself against the whole political class – rather than pick any of the parties simply because they do not identify themselves with any of them.
After all, there is no difference between drinking vinegar from a bottle or after one pours it into a glass. Vinegar will taste sour either way.