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One would expect some measure of professional satisfaction after correctly describing an emerging trend as one that is here to stay. I don’t really feel any kind of satisfaction, though, as it is not a pleasurable or enjoyable situation. But I do feel like I must raise the points I make below.

Last month, I gave a speech at Daphne’s monthly vigil in Valletta. One of the things I picked up on in that speech is the evident, widespread dissatisfaction with this country’s major political parties.

The premise of that speech was based on the survey which MaltaToday published that month, which showed 38.5% of the survey respondents had stated that they do not trust both prime minister Robert Abela and opposition leader Bernard Grech. Just shy of half of that cohort (42%) is made up of individuals who are below 35 years of age, meaning the sweeping sense of dissatisfaction is rooted in our youth.

On Sunday, Malta Today published their latest edition of the same survey. The numbers are in, and it’s not looking pretty for either leader.

The percentage of voters who do not trust both leaders has increased to a staggering 41% now. This time round, the survey’s results suggest that 40.1% of the cohort that trusts neither leader is in the under 35 year old bracket, meaning that the dissatisfaction is now slightly more evenly spread out among all age groups. Nonetheless, the majority of this cohort remain in that bracket.

Malta Today’s James Debono makes a pointed observation about what he describes as ‘Labour’s voting retention problem’.

In the article, he states that “rather than shifting to other parties, most disgruntled Labour voters are registering their protest by abstaining”, later adding that “while 33.9% of Labour voters in 2022 – the largest every in a MaltaToday survey – will abstain, a considerable 22% of PN voters would also abstain”.

What’s interesting about this is that it can reasonably be interpreted as a striking difference between the major political parties’ voter bases. Come hell or high water, most of the Labour Party’s grassroots would rather let the country sink than vote for ‘The Enemy’. I’ve also felt this sentiment directly whenever I’ve had conversations with disenchanted members of the Labour Party (that’s right, Abela – if only you knew the stories I hear from the people you’ve had a direct hand in screwing over).

Disenchanted Nationalist Party supporters, on the other hand, seem to be more open to voting for a third party. While 9.6% of the PN’s voters would consider a third party, just 0.4% of PL supporters would consider doing the same. Of course, one must consider that the loyalty of a voter base is much easier to buy when you’re in government and you’ve effectively weaponised clientelism as a tool to prevent democracy.

This has always been a key identifier of the Labour Party’s core base: its twisted, abusive methods of governance have always bred fiercer loyalty precisely because the benefits of that loyalty are so tempting (being allowed to develop a plot of land which you would otherwise never be able to develop in a country with a functioning planning regime, for example).

It is quite clear that, whether we like it or not, Labour Party supporters are the ones who hold the keys to a better future for the country, and that this better future will only be accessible once that voter base begins to abandon its party in droves. If this does not happen, then there is no way the Labour Party is going to be dislodged from power through electoralism. The sooner the parties who are seeking to challenge Labour’s parliamentary hegemony realise this, the better.

The cherry on top of the Sunday headlines cake was one of those Times of Malta stories which quotes so many anonymous politicians it feels like it was written in a confessional – ‘Parties struggle to find candidates for local council elections’.

Unsurprisingly, the articles consists of quotes from anonymous cowards from both the Labour Party’s and the Nationalist Party’s ranks who coo and caw about how the same under 35 cohort which has been repeatedly showing total distrust of their respective leaders is not interested in participating in their politics. Everyone please conceal your shocked looks of utter bewilderment at this utterly unpredictable situation.

According to the story, the main reasons for refusal which were given to party functionaries who were out on the hustings are the lack of effective power invested in local councils, alienation from over a decade’s worth of corruption, dissent within internal party ranks, a lack of inspiration rooted in dissatisfaction with party leaders, and even hopelessly undemocratic refusals to participate in politics unless the offer is sweetened with a guaranteed iced bun like a directorship on a government board.

How utterly pathetic.

While the article does emphasise that a key reason why people are refusing to be nominated for local council elections is the way in which local councils have been gutted over the years, it fails to contextualise this adequately. Local councils weren’t always ‘glorified customer care’ centres, and there are people to be held accountable for why they’ve become so toothless.

More than three years ago, I had attended this incredibly boring press conference which was called by then local governments minister Jose’ Herrera. Never one to cherish innovation, Herrera was using the tried-and-tested strategy of wasting reporters’ time to tell us all about this vague, non-committal consultation which the government launched, probably attempting to impress us all with just how much he wishes to listen to local councillors’ needs.

Of course, Herrera had failed to mention how local councils’ power was gradually taken away from them through the government’s relentless efforts to centralise domains which used to be under their remit.

The goal?

More corruption, of course – more centralisation means more control over the flow of corrupt public procurement orders, especially with major cash cows like transport, infrastructure, cleanliness and waste management, access to heritage sites, health and safety, and so on.

One of the local councillors present at that extremely tedious press conference, Paola mayor Dominic Grima, had coolly pointed out to Herrera what everyone else in the room was thinking: he stood up, took the microphone, and briefly described how Herrera’s proposals (which obviously never materialised) were “words and policies that look nice on paper but leave a lot to be desired”.

Since Grima spoke those words more than three years ago, nothing has really changed in this regard. If anything, the situation has steadily deteriorated since then. And now, political parties have the audacity to express concern about how nobody wants to be seen with them in the street, let alone run on an election ticket with their colours on it.

It truly is a surreal sight to see, if you think about it – the biggest news outlet on the island publishing anonymous quotes from politicians complaining about the death of local council democracy while failing to question them about how they could possibly say so while they are still at the crime scene, holding the bloodied axe that cut democracy down in the first place.

All I have to say to both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party is this – I hope you’ve got plans for retirement, because these are your twilight years and there is nothing you can do to stop this process. Your parties are beyond redemption now, and the honourable thing to do would be to take a good, long, hard look at yourselves so you might one day finally understand just how badly you’ve failed democracy.

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