The Malta Independent 13 June 2024, Thursday
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Independent candidates: Cassola, Borg Manche top; Mercieca, Grech Mintoff flop

Andrea Caruana Monday, 10 June 2024, 11:49 Last update: about 3 days ago

Independent candidates picked up a hefty 8.5% share of the electoral vote over the weekend which, coupled with the near 4% obtained by the smaller parties, notched a not-insignificant piece of the overall vote.

Arnold Cassola (left) received 12,706 votes, which was the third most first count votes among all candidates. But the vote transferable system saw him eventually lose ground, and he finished eighth overall.

It was not as close as he arrived in the first election held in 2004, when he finished sixth as an Alternattiva Demokratika candidate – at a time when Malta had only five seats in the EP.

It was sweet revenge for Cassola as single-handedly he obtained four times as many votes as the party he used to form part of, ADPD-The Green Party, and which he had left after some acrimony over the party’s position on abortion. The party leader, Sandra Gauci, obtained just 2,162 first preferences.

Whilst ADPD embraced modern media trends such as TikTok and Instagram, though with more zest than the PN or Labour Party and with a perhaps more tongue-in-cheek attitude, in an attempt to target a wider and perhaps younger pool, Cassola took a markedly different approach.

Cassola initially secured the open, verbal endorsements of a wide variety of influential Maltese people; surgeon and political commentator Kevin Cassar, artist Debbie Caruana Dingli and writer Immanuel Mifsud, amongst others, in April. This strategy then continued with the release of a short video specifically targeted at the youth with an emphasis on the artistic sector in early June.

Cassola made himself the natural vote for rebels of all colours, especially environmentalists, with the gritty post of his mugshot following his arrest at an environmental protest 30 years ago, that starkly contrasted with other candidates’ polished and posed campaign photos. Furthermore, it may be said that he successfully honed in on university students with the open endorsement of student organization activist Jeremy Mifsud Bonnici.

Another independent candidate ‘success story’ is that of Conrad Borg Manché (right) who secured 5,936 votes. Borg Manché has a stormy political history, first with his resignation from the Labour Party during his tenure as the mayor of Gzira, with his damning comments, “The party is no longer a socialist party that fights for workers.” That said, he openly maintained belief in “genuine” Labourites and stated that he hoped the Labour party would “find its soul” again.

Thus, initially, he potentially had the support of betrayed Labourites, environmentalists, and the Gzira community following his open participation in the ‘Xebbajtuna’ protest and the bone of contention, leading to his eventual party resignation, of the government’s plans to turn a public garden into a petrol station. Despite such a strong voter base, especially for an independent candidate, days before the European election he said he would pledge allegiance to the hard-right European Conservative for “his advantage”.

This crossing of sides from self-proclaimed socialist to right-winger put him at odds with the betrayed Labourites, on the basis of principles, as well as a number of minority groups that the European Conservatives work against. Furthermore, it put him in contrast with Evarist Bartolo, who despite previously endorsing him openly, called for him to reconsider.

Therefore, whilst Borg Manché flip-flopped, possibly recklessly, and shaved off a number of voters, he still received a sizeable number of votes for an independent candidate.

Borg Manché’s 5,936 votes was a tally which was much higher than other independent candidates.

Edwin Vassallo, maintaining an anti-abortion stance like Cassola, gathered just 717 votes. For the sake of context, James ‘Ryder’ Muscat, who held values much less firmly, had no previous political exposure and wished to add “a new flavour” to Maltese politics, gathered over double Vassallo’s votes with 1,585.

There were other independent candidates who take themselves seriously but were taken less seriously by the electorate. These include Simon Mercieca and Ivan Grech Mintoff, who is arguably independent following his resignation from the ABBA party after the ballot sheets were printed. Mercieca and Grech Mintoff both received a miserly 232 and 220 votes respectively. Nazzareno Bonnici, known as Zaren tal-Ajkla, was more or less in the same boat with them in terms of votes, picking up 206.

Lastly, Imperium Europa’s Norman Lowell collected 6,669 votes, a lower number when compared to the 8,238 received five years ago.

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