The Malta Independent 29 January 2023, Sunday
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TMIS Editorial: Abortion and the political pendulum

Sunday, 22 January 2023, 10:51 Last update: about 6 days ago

Evarist Bartolo made an interesting observation a few days ago.

The former education and foreign minister, in a post on Facebook, raised questions as to whether the abortion bill the government wants to introduce could be the start of the downfall of the Labour Party in the same way that the divorce issue had led to a movement against the Nationalist Party more than a decade ago.

With the way the abortion issue is being treated, “are we sure that we are not weakening the huge social block that led the PL to huge electoral victories in 2013, 2017 and 2022?”, Bartolo noted. “Could it be that a movement against the PL will start because of the abortion issue in the same way that one was created because of the divorce issue?”

In a later post, Bartolo then went as far as saying that the government is on a “crusade” which will increase problems, rather than provide solutions, on abortion. It was yet another strong warning from the veteran politician that the PL should not take things for granted.

The circumstances for the PN, in the years leading up to the 2013 election, were of course different from what they are for the PL today.

The PN in government, enjoying just a one-seat majority thanks to a 1,500-vote victory in 2008, was crumbling from within. The divorce issue, spearheaded by a PN MP, with Bartolo’s support, was only one of the difficulties which were faced by then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. The internal divide that manifested itself in that legislature, which was then compounded later by revelations on the financial strife the PN had found itself in, are still subjects we speak about today. The PN did not lose the election because of the divorce issue on its own. It just helped it on its way out of Castille.

The situation for Labour, today, is different. For one thing, it enjoys a nine-seat majority in the House, a comfortable advantage that comes as a result of its third consecutive electoral win, each obtained with a bigger margin than the previous one. Overturning a 1,500-vote deficit was, for Labour, much, much easier than what the Nationalists will have to do, with Labour winning by more than 39,000 preferences last year.

It will take much more than the abortion debate to bring about a change in the Maltese political scenario, and the way people will vote next time round.

Corruption did not bring Labour down in the last two elections.

The Panama Papers scandal did not lead to its downfall.

The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia did not affect the way the electorate thinks.

Neither did the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Not even the naming of Muscat in 2019 as the “man of the year in organised crime and corruption” by an international consortium of journalists made a chink in Labour’s armour.

Labour was not booted out when many of the country’s institutions failed to do their job.

The nepotism, culture of impunity, the myriad scandals that have involved politicians and government officials, the greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force, the hospitals saga, the golden passports scheme which sent Malta on a collision course with the EU, all the rulings against Labour ministers given by the Standards Commissioner, the shortcomings in the government administration flagged by the Auditor General, the construction mayhem, the traffic chaos and so many other issues which, in a normal country, would have affected the way the people vote, have not dented Labour’s power.

The PL has charmed its way into people’s minds with cheques and permits, and many people do not see beyond that.

The PL’s position is also strengthened by an as yet weak Nationalist Party. Changes in the leadership have not brought about the desired result and the PN is still perceived as not being an alternative government. The PN’s voice is not effective and oftentimes what civil society groups and NGOs do or say has more of an impact on the national stage. The new faces the PN has managed to elect to the House of Representatives are still to gain political weight. That, then, leader Bernard Grech has U-turned on his decision to leave MPs, who were part of the Gonzi Cabinet, out of his list of spokespersons also sent the wrong message.

In a nutshell, with all its faults, scandals and shortcomings, the Labour Party still holds on to a strong position.

The support it enjoys may be dented because of the abortion bill.

But, to go back to Bartolo’s question – “could it be that this will give a chance to the PN to start winning back support it began to lose since the 2008 election?” – it will take much, much more than this to sway the political pendulum.

 

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