The Malta Independent 20 June 2021, Sunday

MEP election: For now it’s 14 vs 7, but will it remain this way?

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 6 January 2019, 10:15 Last update: about 3 years ago

The year 2019 will bring with it an election, one to elect Malta’s six representatives at the European Parliament.

The slow start to the new year will soon make way for a flurry of events linked with the election campaign. Parliament sessions will resume on 14 January and the momentum towards the election will gradually start to pick up, stopping for a short recess for Easter – this year to be celebrated on 21 April – and, following that, the real five-week campaign will take us to the vote on 25 May.

ADVERTISEMENT

It will be more or less two years since the last national poll, when the Labour Party had captured its biggest win in Malta’s election history, a 36,000 gap which was slightly larger than the equally impressive win of 2013. In spite of the election having to be called a year earlier than anticipated in the wake of allegations made against the Prime Minister, Labour improved on its 2013 feat, which is probably an even bigger moral victory given that parties in government normally tend to lose support.

Since then, every survey that was carried out has shown Labour to still be in a very strong position, with a Nationalist Party that continues to struggle with its own internal conflict.

2004-2009-2014

Three elections for MEPs have been held since Malta joined the European Union, and all three have been won handsomely by the Labour Party.

In 2004, Labour had obtained 48 per cent of the votes against the PN’s 39 per cent, taking three of the five seats available.

Five years later, in 2009, Labour increased its tally to 54 per cent, while the PN registered a slight increase to 40 per cent. This time, however, Malta had six seats available, and Labour took four of them.

In 2014, Labour’s percentage dropped marginally to 53 per cent, and this allowed the Nationalist Party to gain a third seat – thanks to our complicated electoral system – in spite of garnering, again, just 40 per cent of the votes.

The PL and PN were, of course, not the only parties contesting the above elections, and the rest of the votes were distributed among the several smaller parties or individual candidates who tried their luck.

Of significance was Alternattiva Demokratika’s Arnold Cassola who came very close to upsetting the duopoly in 2004, when he was the last candidate to be eliminated in that race for five seats – had there been six available, AD would have made history.

2019

As things stand today, the coming election in May is set to be a repetition of the previous ones, with Labour expected to obtain the majority of votes. It is also expected that, this time round, the PN will not be able to maintain its third seat in Brussels.

So far, we know that Labour will be fielding 14 candidates for the election, its biggest number since the EP elections started 15 years ago. On the other hand, the Nationalist Party has confirmed only seven candidates for the 26 May election, the smallest ever. Never before has there been a situation in which one of the two bigger parties has double the number of candidates over the other.

Things could change as the numbers are not set in stone. Although Labour candidates had until last November to put their name forward, there are still ways by which the number could increase. As for the PN, it is likely that there could be some late additions.

All candidates are in full swing in their election campaign – their regular presence on the social media is, at times, quite nauseous – and it is therefore probable that any late entrants will be politicians who already enjoy a high profile.

Some argue that it would be better for the PN to have a restricted number of candidates, as this would mean that the PN vote would spread less than Labour’s, with the chance that PN candidates will remain longer in the race. Others however insist that a low number would give the impression that the party’s pool of talent is low, and a small number would mean that the candidates would not cover all pockets of society.

Candidates

The Labour Party’s candidates for the 2019 MEP election are Alex Agius Saliba, Felix Busuttil, Josef Caruana, Noel Cassar, Josianne Cutajar, Miriam Dalli, Cyrus Engerer, Mary Gauci, James Grech, Robert Micallef, Joe Sammut, Alfred Sant, Lorna Vassallo and Fleur Vella.

With incumbents Alfred Sant and Miriam Dalli starting as outright favourites to grab two of the seats available (the other Labour MEP, Marlene Mizzi, will not be contesting), the rest of the candidates are more or less on an equal footing and aim to also take advantage of the Number Two preferences on ballot sheets which favour Sant and Dalli.

The Nationalist Party’s candidates so far are Peter Agius, Dione Borg, Michael Briguglio, David Casa, Roberta Metsola, Frank Psaila and Francis Zammit Dimech.

Metsola and Casa have some advantage over the rest of the field and, if elected, Casa would continue his own personal record of being elected every time since Malta obtained the right to have representatives in the European Parliament. But the situation in the PN is more complex than that of Labour, given that, at best, the PN will get only two seats. Will PN supporters maintain the status quo or will they go for change? As things stand now, Metsola seems to have a higher probability than Casa to keep her seat.

The smaller parties have also published their list of candidates for the election.

Partit Demokratiku have chosen its former leader Anthony Buttigieg and new general secretary Martin Cauchi Inglott, two personalities with little political background and a low profile.

Conversely, Alternattiva Demokratika has made a different choice, preferring to put two of its most well-known personalities. These are current leader Carmel Cacopardo and his predecessor Arnold Cassola who, as said previously, came close to being elected in 2004. While experience may be seen by some as being an asset, others might consider both these candidates as being past their best and this is perhaps why AD added a third candidate to their list, LGBTIQ activist Mina Tolu.

The chances are that both AD and PD candidates will take votes from the Nationalist core which could prove to be a determining factor in the overall result. They might be the ones who swing the election towards Labour even further.

Apart from these, a number of other candidates are expected to contest the election, including some who will go for it on an individual level.

Other issues

·         Unlike general elections, polls to elect MEPs do not determine the government for the next five years. This leads to a bigger possibility that people vote for a different party than they have traditionally done, or choose not to vote at all, or cross-vote from one party to another.

·         A day is a long time in politics, and so nearly five months is an eternity. So much could happen between today and 25 May. A scandal, a phrase uttered imprudently, a handshake not given, an unwelcome post on Facebook could all play their part in the outcome.

·         While people vote for individuals, the individual candidates are in their majority representing a political party. Some may give their vote on a personal basis, or because that particular candidate favours a particular issue. But at the end of the day any vote to any candidate is also a vote to that particular party he or she represents. And some people may not be comfortable voting for a party mired in corruption allegations or a party embroiled in so big an internal conflict.

  • don't miss