The Malta Independent 20 June 2019, Thursday

Political lessons from France

Simon Mercieca Monday, 10 September 2018, 07:40 Last update: about 10 months ago

For the last five years, the PN’s strategy was based on the concept of good governance. For this reason, it targeted the issue of corruption and specifically appointed a spokesperson to handle this.


Despite the various cases of corruption that have hit the Labour administration in the past years, the Opposition has failed to make headway. On the contrary, the electoral difference between both parties increased.

Worse,  the strategy adopted by the Opposition did not even help the party narrow the gap.  One could argue, as Tonio Fenech did, that it was very difficult, virtually impossible for the Opposition to win. Personally, I don’t think so. I would never start a political strategy from fait accompli position: this rings sure defeat in politics. My maxim in politics is that nothing is impossible.

One may question why the Maltese electorate failed to heed the Opposition’s request for good governance. It is politically incorrect to dismiss the electoral result with the concept that the Maltese are not interested in good governance and that the majority approves corruption.

It is wrong to dismiss the idea that the Maltese majority supportcorruption as long as they are sitting comfortable No doubt there is an element in the electorate that is interested in lining its pockets. There is also an element that approves corruption as long as it also obtains some advantages. But the majority does not base its political preference on these political considerations. Normally, the electorate starts getting interested in its own personal affairs once it starts being discriminated against or when it has aright to something and bureaucracy or corrupt management fails to listen and deliver.

Between the 2013 and 2017 election, I met more than one person who told me that for the first time, they had voted Labour in 2013 but had been deceived by the corruption scandals and would  be again voting Nationalist in 2017. Statistics and polls confirm this swing.

But there were many others who in 2013 voted PN, but the next time round, decided to vote Labour for the first time. There were many first-time voters who were pleased with Labour’s performance and others disgruntled  with the Opposition’s modus operandi.

But why did the Opposition fail? The reading of French politics can give, in my view, an interesting reply. It is clear that the political answer to any government, who over a long period  has proposed the concept of an open society, is to be presented with its anti-thesis; a closed society. I am not going into the academic discourse of what these two concepts stand for. For sure these concepts lead demographers to an interesting synthesis or a middle way. But when a party is faced with such a big loss, there is no middle way. For this reason, I wish to stick to the political discourse that adopts another metric than that of academia.

No Opposition party that historically has conservative roots, can become electable by embracing liberal ideals, in particular, when these ideals have been successfully embraced by the opposing party, in this case Joseph Muscat.

More importantly, no issues of good governance hold water when the economy is doing well and more importantly, when the taxation system is not excessive. In Malta, thanks to successive Nationalist governments, there is a rather mild taxation regime.

This brings me to the French political system. In France, the taxation regime is excessively high. Therefore, the political issues related to good governance are going to strike a sore note. The Republican Party in France is positioning these issues on the political forefront. The Republicans in France are faced by the extreme-right. They want to take over votes from the centre-right and the other extreme right party of Marine Le Pin. In terms of political strategy, they are completely correct.

In Malta, issues of good governance will become important, should the issues of housing and rents continue to escalate. Yet, the main emphasis should not be on governance, but on housing.

We then have the separate issue of migration. The PN could not master this issue because of its liberal faction, whose position on the concept of Open Society makes it supportive of migration. It is only now that the party is starting to talk about it. But it lacks a clear and convincing strategy.

One needs to remember that Muscat had to change his vision and position on migration. When in Opposition, Muscat spoke in terms of push-back position. Once in government, he is speaking more in terms of an open society. Primarily, this government is seeking to accommodatBrussels.

What is important for this argument is that Muscat knew that he would not suffer any losses on the local front from the migration issue, even if there is a strong Labour vote against it. The reason being that the Opposition was in complete disarray on this issue. Those in favour of an open-society will continue to vote Muscat and not the PN.

The issue of migration is important because it is related to security. More than migration, security is the problem. It is now clear that a number of black migrants are being employed as runners for the drug market. Obviously, migrants need money. If they fail to make money in the proper way, they turn to criminality. This is not an issue of race. This has been happening in history even among white migrants in the USA. In the 19thcentury, there were French and Irish gangs in New York. Then, the Italian Mafia started to infiltrate society. They recruited their hitmen from among those migrants who had ended up in financial straits.

What is even worse for the PN, is the fact that even if, Adrian Delia is speaking about issues of security, for example at Marsa, he is still not being taken seriously by that section of the electorate that has such issues to heart.

The reason is that while Delia speaks about this issue, he is also seeking to accommodate a strong liberal element within the party whose vision of Open Society is focused on migrant integration rather than security and expulsion. This section of the electorate knows a priori that Delia will not be able to deliver on matters regarding security.   

Yet, French politics is also showing another avenue and to which the Opposition should give  serious thought. Migration and security are normally topics of the Right. This is not a topic of the Left. I am here speaking about the environment.  

The resignation of the French Enivornmental Minister has sent political shock waves, not only in France but all over Europe. In France, this minister has shown that Macron has done nothing for the Environment.

In Europe, the environment is not a priority on the political agenda. Malta is a case in point. The environment is not a priority for government but it is becoming a priority for many residents.

This is an area where the current PN is also missing out. It missed this point by focusing mostly on corruption.  But even here the PN has no credentials for its leaders, both those within the liberal faction and those on the other side, are in the pockets of the big construction magnates.

Despite the media’s important role it can play in this, and despite government’s lack of action in this field, there has hardly been any real and concrete Opposition on the issue of security, migration and the environment. The electorate is realizing that whether politicians are on the right or the left of the political spectrum, they only pay lip service to the true concerns of the people.

Despite the fact that migration and security are elements of the right and that the environment is normally positioned to the left, there is a common factor that unites them all. This element is demography. The increase in population, the fact that more and more individuals in Malta are ending up living in confined spaces, sometimes without even a yard or a roof, and the only open space is an internal balcony; environmental issues are going to become more and more a priority.

Construction lobbies may appear strong because they can wield power through money. However, far too many citizens are being negatively hit by irresponsible, bad urban practice, thus adding to the concern.  At the moment, these citizens may not have a strong political voice. However, should any party in Opposition succeed in uniting the diverse demographic forces into one, electoral success will be guaranteed.


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