The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Records broken as swing localities almost all go against PL

Albert Galea Sunday, 16 June 2024, 07:30 Last update: about 1 month ago

Three days of vote counting have now come to an end, with the Labour Party emerging from local council elections with a vote majority of 20,255 votes over the Nationalist Party.

It is a stronger majority than the 8,454-vote majority that the PL managed to maintain in the European Parliament elections held on the same day and counted last week; but it doesn’t tell the whole story, as the PL lost almost 27,000 votes and majorities in several key localities.

Sixty-eight localities elected a total of 476 councillors, and as each locality was officially called by the delegates of each political party through the sound of banging Perspex – a sound which has become synonymous, for better or for worse, with Maltese democracy – the picture of the message being sent to the government became ever clearer.

Seven localities in new hands, five localities in a state of deadlock with no mayor just yet, three days of counting, two broken Perspex screens, one election: this is The Malta Independent on Sunday’s recap on the 2024 local council elections.


Swing localities (almost) all go against the PL

All eyes were on several major swing localities, and almost all those localities swung away from the PL.

Only in Ghasri – which the PL won for the first time ever, possibly courtesy to a previous PN mayor now contesting under its ticket – did the governing party find some joy. It was the first locality of the whole election to be called. There was little to celebrate for the PL afterwards.

The PN managed to win back control in San Gwann, Siggiewi, St Paul’s Bay and Mosta, which had all been in PL control since 2019, and gained a majority in Msida for the first time since 2003. It also gained a majority in Zebbug (Gozo), where in 2019 the seats had been distributed evenly between the PN and the PL (two each) with an independent, who this time contested with the PL, holding the final seat.

Elsewhere, the PN became the most voted for party in Mellieha and Birkirkara, which had been in PL control since 2002 and 2013 respectively, albeit without achieving a seat majority owing to independent candidates being elected.

Valletta, which had been predicted as being a possible swing district having turned red for the first time ever in 2019, went against the trend and actually strengthened the PL’s majority.

But the PL suffered in localities which hadn’t been pegged as swing towns as it lost majorities in Zebbug and Floriana due to the election of independent candidates. Floriana has a history of being led by independent mayors, but the PL had never lost the majority in Zebbug ever since local councils began to exist.


PN and independents make gains in seats

A total of 476 seats were on offer this year, as some localities saw their seat complement increase owing to an uptick in their respective populations.

The PL won the majority of those, with 253 seats, while the PN won 212 seats, independent candidates won nine seats and ADPD won two seats.

When compared to 2019, the PN won an additional 20 seats, while the PL lost 15 seats.

The PN’s gains came across the board. In its strongholds, the PN gained two seats in Naxxar, a seat in Swieqi and Lija, and also strengthened its hold on Munxar and Zebbug (Gozo) with an additional seat in each locality.

Some of the additional seats came in localities that the party won from the PL: both new seats in the expanded San Gwann council were won by the PN, and the party then won a seat each in Mosta, Msida, St Paul’s Bay and Siggiewi to gain control of the locality.

However, there were also important seat gains in PL-led localities. The PN gained a seat in each of Birzebbuga, Zurrieq, Qrendi, Dingli, Xewkija, Zabbar, Pieta, Hamrun and Santa Lucija, and gained two seats in each of Marsascala and Xaghra.

The PL did make some gains in its stronger localities, but these were cancelled out by the PN’s gains across the board. The party took seats off the PN in Kirkop, Ghasri and in the PN-led San Lawrenz.

Also of note was the PL winning all five of the seats on offer in Cospicua, where the council was reduced from seven seats to five, leaving the PN with nothing.

ADPD had no seats coming into this election, but emerge with a seat in St Paul’s Bay for the first time courtesy of leader Sandra Gauci and with a seat in Attard courtesy of Ralph Cassar, who had already served in that locality’s council for a number of years.

The number of independent candidates elected also increased from four to nine.

Steve Zammit Lupi was re-elected in Zebbug, this time together with his mother Lilibeth. David Apap was also re-elected in Gharb and he was this time joined by Lisa Marie Brooke. Floriana’s Nigel Holland made a return to the locality’s council having not been elected in 2019.

There were then new independent candidates elected in Birkirkara (former PL councillor Kaylocke Buhagiar), Gzira (former PL mayor Conrad Borg Manche), Mellieha (Matthew Borg Cuschieri) and Marsaxlokk (Matthew Bugeja).


Records broken all around

There were plenty of records broken across the board – some wanted, and others unwanted.

The PN’s performances in swing localities was not just a matter of reverting them to its control, but in most instances, record breaking.

In Siggiewi – where the party won by 938 votes – the PN registered a record high vote share of 58.09%. It was the PL’s worst performance in the locality since 2004.

In Mosta – where the PN won by 1,512 votes – the PN registered its second highest vote share ever, with 55.99% of the votes. Only in 1998, when the PN won 62.47% of the votes and when the PL did not contest the local council elections, did the party perform better.

For the PL, meanwhile, this year’s showing in Mosta was its worst on record.

It was a similar story in San Gwann for the PN, as it won the locality with a 54.56% majority. Only in 1997, again when the PL didn’t contest the local council elections, did the party register a higher vote share.

In St Paul’s Bay, the PL’s performance was its worst since 2002 as it lost two seats – one to the PN and one to ADPD – and the majority in the locality along with it.

In Mellieha, the PN registered its best vote share (49.08%) since 1999, and the PL’s vote share (41.42%) was its worst ever on record, as independent candidate Matthew Borg Cuschieri took a chunk out of its support.

Independent candidates caused similar records elsewhere: in Zebbug, the presence of three independent candidates – two of whom (Steve Zammit Lupi and his mother Lilibeth) were elected – meant that the PL registered a vote share of just 40.37%, far and away its worst performance in the locality and the first time that it has registered below 50%.

In Gzira, former PL mayor Conrad Borg Manche contested – and was elected – as an independent candidate after his much-publicised split with his party, but he appeared to take more votes off the PN than the PL.

This meant that the PN only registered 32.39% in the locality – its worst performance to date. The PL meanwhile registered 49.15%: its worst showing since 2004, but enough to secure a seat majority regardless.

Another former PL councillor turned independent, Kaylocke Buhagiar, impacted the statistics in Birkirkara, where the PL lost over 1,600 votes compared to five years ago and polled at its worst levels since 2003. In Floriana, the election of perennial independent candidate Nigel Holland also prompted the PL’s worst performance since 2004.

Meanwhile in the Gozitan village of Gharb, an independent residents’ coalition, led by a former PN mayor, scooped up 56.29% of the votes – leaving both the PN and the PL with their worst performances there to date.

There was very positive news for the PN in the northern regions of the country, even in its strongholds, where the party performed very strongly.

The PN’s performances in Swieqi, St Julian’s, Sliema and Attard were the party’s best since 1998, 1999, 1997 and 2001 respectively – when, with the exception of 1999 and 2001, the PL didn’t contest local councils – and there were record high performances in Pembroke (the PN did not win the locality by a mere eight votes), Lija, Iklin, Gharghur and Naxxar.

This naturally prompts the reverse in terms of the PL: it was the party’s worst performance on record in Sliema, Swieqi, Iklin and Lija, and the party’s worst showing in St Julian’s since 1999.

There was good news elsewhere for the PN as well: the party registered its best ever showings in Santa Lucija (where the party won another seat) and Gudja, while it was its best performance in Marsascala – where it won both the new seats on offer – since 2003 and its best performance in Zurrieq since 2008.

It wasn’t all bad news for the PL though: while the PN seemed to strengthen its core, so did the PL. The governing party registered best ever showings in Cospicua (where it made history by winning all five seats on offer), Xghajra and Senglea.

The PL won 86.67% of the votes in Xghajra and 85.54% of the votes in Cospicua. Those are the two highest majorities ever registered in any given locality, and in any given election when both the major parties have contested.

The only blemish in this area is that the PL registered its worst ever performance in Vittoriosa – although that was down to the presence of an independent candidate, rather than the PN gaining many votes.

Most positive of all for the PL however was its performance in Valletta. Where many had pinned this as a battleground, the PL actually widened its majority in the capital with what is its best performance on record, and the PN’s worst.

Gozo was an interesting case where the demographics appear to be shifting.

The PL registered best ever showings in San Lawrenz, Victoria and Kercem – prompting the PN’s worst ever showings in those localities. The PN meanwhile registered its best ever showing in Munxar, cut a huge PL majority in Qala down to just a few votes – its best performance since 2012.

Only in Nadur, where the PN won its best vote share since 2012, and Ghajnsielem, where the PN registered its best ever performance, was the status quo strengthened.

Finally, who can forget Steve Zammit Lupi? He registered an incredible 2,342 votes as an independent candidate in Zebbug – more than all five of the PN’s candidates in the locality registered together.

That tally is a record high for an independent candidate. Perhaps that’s fitting, after a week of elections which have, in part, come to also be defined by strong performances from those not associated with the PN or the PL.

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