The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMIS Editorial: The winner does not take it all

Sunday, 16 June 2024, 10:00 Last update: about 1 month ago

It is said that a week is a long time in politics.

Well, the one that has just ended certainly was.

The Labour Party entered the Naxxar counting hall brimming with confidence that it was going to win handsomely again, that it would add another massive victory to the long string of electoral successes it has achieved since 2009. After all, the surveys were pointing to yet another resounding triumph for Robert Abela and his team.

Conversely, the Nationalist Party was already preparing itself for yet another huge blow following the long list of defeats it has suffered in the last 25 years. It set itself the target of winning three seats at the EP and make inroads into a few councils, but this would not have been much of a consolation if the distance between the two parties remained as heavy as it was in 2019, when it had lost by 47,000 (local councils) and 42,000 (EP).

At the end of the exercise – the counting of votes for the European Parliament and local council elections – the Labour Party still won and the Nationalist Party still lost. But the happier of the two is the PN, which has unexpectedly eaten into a good chunk of Labour’s lead.

In the EP election, Labour’s lead was cut down by 34,000 votes to 8,400, and the PL lost a seat while the PN gained one.

In the local council elections, the Nationalist Party flipped five councils while another four, which were previously held by Labour, are now deadlocked. Labour’s advantage has dipped by 27,000 votes to a 20,000 lead, less than half of what it was five years ago.

When Labour was winning each and every election by huge majorities, its advantage seemed unassailable. Today, after the 8 June vote, this lead is no longer impregnable.

The political landscape in Malta has changed. And it did not change gradually. All of a sudden, the PN is now much closer to the Labour Party. What seemed a foregone conclusion – another Labour victory, the fourth successive one, in the 2027 general election – may no longer be so.

The Labour Party has only itself to blame for what happened. To be more precise, Robert Abela has only to look in the mirror to see who is culpable for the shift in the political balance of the country, although he is too conceited to admit to that. He has committed one blunder after another, one mistake bigger than the previous one, and he is quickly becoming a liability for the party he leads.

His support to Joseph Muscat and the hospitals’ deal, his attack on the judiciary and the media, his haughtiness in his use of the power of incumbency, his downplaying of serious shortcomings such as the one related to the Siggiewi change of addresses, and his suggestion of a presidential pardon to people who have been caught stealing from the country all worked against him. And these are his biggest bloopers during the five-week election campaign; there were many more in previous months, and he is now paying the price for his lack of foresight and wrong decisions.

After the election results, Abela said the party will have to listen to the message and be humble. He should be the first to listen to his own words, but it is doubtful whether he is capable of doing so. He could not even face his own delegates at the counting hall when the party was losing one council after another. He made an appearance on Sunday, when he declared victory in the EP election, but long before it was known that Labour’s advantage had been cut down so heavily. He did not turn up on any of the three days when the local council election votes were being counted. He felt comfortable going on the party’s TV station to field the easy questions, and not face the rest of the media in Naxxar.

Since 2009, the PN had always emerged bruised and battered from all elections. But after the latest round it comes out reinvigorated by the possibility that, after all, what seemed impossible is now within reach. As leader Bernard Grech said, it has achieved its target of winning three seats in the European Parliament. The local council map is still predominantly red, but there is more blue now. And, most of all, the PN has substantially cut down on the voter gap with Labour which, in the grand scheme of things, is equally important.

Labour won the elections, and the PN lost them. But, in this case, the winners were also losers and the losers were also winners.

The winner, this time, did not take it all.

 

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