The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

You are on a list

Timothy Alden Sunday, 5 April 2020, 09:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

There is nothing new about political parties collecting as much data as possible on voters. One could argue that it is even the responsibility of political parties to know their voters - otherwise, how can they launch effective campaigns? A data breach from the company,  C-Planet, has revealed that the Labour Party may be abusing of the Electoral Register to illegally keep information about the voting population. Now, I am not saying that parties should not collect data on voters - but there are legal avenues to do so. Of course, the Electoral Register does not tell us what people vote for, but its abuse in this manner has made it easier for political parties to categorise people according to their beliefs. In a tribal country like Malta, this is dangerous, because people's professional and social success often depends on which party they support.

ADVERTISEMENT

In an ideal world, political parties should be speaking honestly without filters about what they really stand for, rather than trying to tailor their messages to what they think people would like to hear. A decision Partit Demokratiku made early was that it would distinguish itself from other parties by saying what needed to be said in the genuine best interest of the country, rather than what was electorally convenient. For example, our aquifers are being abused beyond the point of recovery - and the real solutions are expensive. However, they need to be done, or we will all suffer collectively in the long run. Nonetheless, governments rarely plan that far ahead, as they need to worry about the next election. Of course, Partit Demokratiku emphasizes the concerns of the day. It just so happens, however, that the main concerns of the day are often those which the larger parties tend to ignore, because it is not in their interest to resolve the problems in question. Take the environment, for example - classically, despite making all the right noises, both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party are eternally in debt, in one way or another, to the big businessmen and developers of this country. The disastrous consequences of that agenda speak for themselves.

What happens when one abandons real solutions for populism? What happens when the ultimate objective is getting elected at any cost, and saying all the right things without meaning any of them? Then one gets two parties which one can hardly tell apart. What is the difference between them? The Labour Party has embraced big business and put itself economically farther to the Right of the political spectrum than the Nationalist Party. The roles have reversed, as Labour has abandoned its founding socialist principles. This blurring of the lines has merely created two shades of liberalism and conservatism at best when one looks at the two traditional parties. Without obvious principles to tell the two main parties apart, all that is left is tribalism, focused around leadership figures. In the absence of a guiding principle which serves the entire nation rather than one tribe over another, what one gets is a dirty competition and a race to the bottom led with powerful leaders dictating everything, building cults of personality. In a tribal system, the problem is that one gets first class citizens and second class citizens. Which category one fits into depends on which of the two larger parties is in power. This tiered system of one tribe stepping on another leads us back to the data breach from C-Planet.

If the Labour and Nationalist Parties have such comprehensive data on our beliefs, it is no wonder that people are afraid to speak their minds and step outside of traditional boundaries. People are routinely punished and ostracized for their beliefs in this country. When I was asked to be a candidate for Partit Demokratiku, I lay in bed all night thinking about it, because I knew it meant I would be branded my entire life. In the end, I decided to follow my principles and stop being afraid. Despite all the advice from family to never show my colour, I decided to make a stand. The irony of it all is that without realising it, I was already on a list - and all along, and whether I liked it or not, I was destined to be branded. What would it take? One stray comment here or there, for it to be channelled up the network of the main parties to label me? Perhaps such a thing would be harmless elsewhere - but it is not harmless here in Malta and Gozo. Additional measures should be taken to protect the sensitive data of voters, and we must discover if C-Planet's data originated from the Electoral Register illegally and has been stored in violation of GDPR. In the meanwhile I would also like to remind the country that Partit Demokratiku and Alternattiva Demokratika represent a vision which stands for everyone - rather than dividing people into colours or numbers. In such a country such as we strive for, nobody would be afraid of speaking their mind, or having to worry about government knowing their beliefs. That is worth fighting for.

  • don't miss