The current state of Maltese politics may have left you thinking “Is this the best we can do?” PN and Labour, which have taken turns ruling Malta for the last 90 years, are now seen by many as almost indistinguishable from each other. For some, this means that they are tainted with responsibility for environmental destruction and corruption. As the March 2022 election draws closer, you might be unsatisfied with both, or even with all of the options for that matter. You might be feeling numb after years of discouraging headlines – demotivated and resigned to the fact that this is how things will always be. You might even feel that our politics will never change, or that your thoughts and opinions don’t count.
But Malta is a democracy – a flawed one, but a free one. And while you may feel that the PN-Labour duopoly is so dominant that the whole population is caught in its tribalistic embrace, this is not true. If you are not happy with the status quo, you are not alone. A recent poll by Maltatoday showed that 22% of voters do not trust either Robert Abela or Bernard Grech, while the Times of Malta claims the figure is closer to 17%. This is a significant, critical mass of Maltese voters.
Among young people, the desire for change is even greater. Research by Maltatoday in November 2021 showed that only 45% of under-35s plan to vote for PN or Labour. The dissatisfaction with the status quo is broadly reflected by the findings of a study by EY, which grabbed headlines in October 2021 by claiming that 60% of youths wanted to leave Malta for overseas. If you are one of those people, then by all means, you should do it – moving abroad will change your life. And those who go to study or work in another country do not normally cut all ties with their homeland, on the contrary they become among the country’s greatest assets.
But the practical reality is that leaving is difficult – and most of those who claim they wish to do it will never take that step. So if you’re going to stay in Malta after all, why not do something to make it better, and address those issues that made you want to leave in the first place?
A little Party never killed nobody
One way of changing things is through elections. Of course, a number of third parties already exist, and for years the likes of AD have tried to challenge the PN-Labour duopoly at the ballot box. Unfortunately, none of these smaller parties have ever succeeded in getting anywhere, despite the fact, as we saw above, that there are thousands of voters who are sick and tired of the status quo.
One of the reasons for this failure is that parties such as AD or PD are not really up to the task – they are amateurish, often unconvincing, and are now largely seen as lost causes. They attract criticism from well-meaning citizens who believe in their principles but find faults in the smaller parties’ methods. Many of these critics have forgotten that politics is hard work, and involves endless sacrifices – those who choose to dedicate their time to a small party do so without the promises of career advancement or popularity that the establishment parties can offer.
So while the awkward, repetitive third party politicians are far from perfect, at least they’re the only ones who are trying. While voting for them is unlikely to result in parliamentary success, it does send a strong message. The PN-Labour duopoly has for years tried, for obvious reasons, to convince us all that the Maltese electoral system makes a vote for third parties a waste of time. This is not true. On the contrary, with its ability to cross-vote across political lines, our political system is ideal for voting for smaller parties and votes are never wasted.
Change can come in many ways
If you don’t fancy joining the political party arena – and it’s hard to blame you – there are plenty of other options as to how you can make a difference. Political change or progress does not only originate from political parties. Indeed, in recent years a number of NGOs (though this word is now viewed negatively by some parts of the population) have succeeded in achieving significant advances. The most notable is probably Moviment Graffitti, which has distinguished itself through its unwavering crusade on environmental issues. Just to name a few recent examples, Graffitti’s activism has led to real wins on controversial issues involving the Balluta Bay jetty and the Marsaskala marina.
Furthermore, the DB high-rise project in Pembroke was successfully appealed, and its footprint markedly reduced, by a community-led and crowdfunded legal effort in 2019. And we must not forget the 2015 anti-spring hunting referendum, even if that initiative failed at the final hurdle due to poor political organisation and execution. With a bit of work, you can surely find a cause that matters to you.
And another underrated way of making a difference is simply by talking to others. Malta is so small, and the PN-Labour duopoly so omnipresent in our village squares, on social media and in our very way of thinking, that it is possible to feel suffocated –like there is nobody else out there who is open-minded enough to see things your way. This is also, as we have seen above, not true. Raise the topics that you think are important and they will resound with some people. Make sure that the political parties do not have a monopoly on discussions of current affairs. You can even write an article, much like this one, about something that matters to you.
One of the establishment’s long-overdue promises is that a constitutional convention will soon take place to discuss structural reforms and decide the future of the Maltese political system. When (and if) such a convention takes place, make sure you are a part of it. Insist that it is not just the same old tired political parties that have a say in drawing up the future of the Maltese Republic, but instead that all the voices of Maltese society, your voice, is heard.
There you have it – from the grandiose to the simple, there are lots of ways you can do your part to make Maltese politics a less depressing affair. In fact, if you look closely enough, you may find that there is some hope for our island after all.