The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Malta’s 2022 election

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 31 March 2022, 09:19 Last update: about 3 years ago

The writing has been on the wall for years. National, European and local elections and surveys have consistently been showing people's political preferences, aspirations and concerns since at least 2009. Labour's historic national victory last week, even bigger than those in the previous two national elections, confirms that the party has constructed a hegemonic formation.

In this regard, what surprises me is neither Labour's victory, nor its extent, but the fact that its adversaries kept repeating narratives and strategies which were doomed to fail electorally.

Of course, one can criticise the Labour government on matters such as those relating to governance, but at the same time one would be very short-sighted not to recognise that in Government it largely delivered what it promised. Some examples include investment in infrastructure and opening the economic doors to upwardly mobile working-class and middle-class people, for example through more liberal planning policies and progressive social policies. Amid the pandemic, the Labour government performed well, and in other areas, it did carry out a number of changes and reforms, both within the party and as a force in government. More importantly, Labour's hegemony was active on the ground, in the social backstage of micropolitics of everyday life, far away from the glitzy news headlines and media bubbles, which, seem to appeal to a rather limited, even if loud, echo chamber. Labour was pragmatic, and it won.

In such a context, there was no way the Nationalist Party could have won the election, and to make matters worse, its own strategy was self-defeating. Not only because it repeated a narrative that has long been discarded by the electoral majority, but also because halfway through the legislature it cannibalized itself, scaring many along the way. For, if a democratically elected leader was consistently undermined by a faction within his own party, which then succeeded in replacing him, how could the same faction then expect to be trusted in their attitude towards those who support him as well as non-Nationalist activist or supporters? This faction acted like a virtual reality: with massive presence in various media networks, but then being disconnected from everyday concerns of the masses. Again, surveys have been showing this, even for example in people's usage and perceptions of the media. In sum, the Nationalist Party was in crusade mode, believing it has a monopoly over what is 'right', acting like a holy inquisitor to those not forming part of the elite faction, and lost.

This general election also had two other notable characteristics: Its relative calm and the relatively high number of non-voters. Various readings can be given to these phenomena, from democratic maturity to disenchantment. Here, I would beg to differ with those who are somewhat triumphantly saying that an 85% turnout was a victory for third or independent forces.

To begin with: No third party or independent candidate managed to get elected, and none was even close to such an achievement, despite the ample media coverage given to them. True, Arnold Cassola's personal result was quite encouraging, but again, one has to compare this to the results of the major parties, and not of other independent candidates or small parties.

If anything, in this election voters had quite a broad choice if they did not want to vote PL or PN. There was a rainbow of small political forces to choose from. Still, most non-voters opted for the not voting at all. Besides, others may have shifted from one big party to another, or as was quite clear this time around, from one candidate to another within the same party.

There may have been different motivations why non-voting happened. Some may have wanted to protest against their respective big parties, again from different reasons, ranging from the ideological to the personal. If one's analysis dumps all these voters together, they would make an interesting arithmetic addition, but it would be akin to political absurdity, made up of (often non-reconcilable) ideas, grievances, identities and motivations.

Non-voters are not a homogenous bloc, and I cannot see them becoming one. Of course, this does not mean that one should simply ignore non-voters. Like other voters, they are reflexive, and not merely people who one can pigeonhole into one's narrative.


Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta



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