Malta Diary 19: Where Politics and Football Merge and Mix
The recent elections for the European Parliament in the Maltese Islands kicked off with the Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil urging the electorate to show a “Yellow Card” of disapproval to the incumbent Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. With the World Cup looming and knowing Malta’s craze for the bouncing ball, Busuttil had the forthcoming finals in Brazil very much in mind. In the resultant shade of voting, the PM retorted by tongue-in-cheek stating that Malta and Gozo had shown the “Red Card” to the Leader of the Opposition instead!
Further into the campaign the Opposition published a “rogue’s picture gallery” album of about 200 individuals who it alleged had curried favour with the Government and had consequently been given either plum and/or lucrative positions, or contracts.
This caused much merriment and was compared to the popular Italian “Panini” stickers, album pictures of the world’s leading footballers who will feature in the World Cup, vastly popular in Malta and subject to much exchange and mart. It also occasioned a flurry of libel suits by some of the enraged featured.
The Maltese electoral system of voluntary proportional representation is a fair but vastly complicated exercise of numbered preference voting of candidates with a quota elected threshold and transferable votes as candidates are eliminated. It took three days to get the full result!
The statistics caused some great surprises. The average EU turn-out was 42% but Malta and Gozo polled 74.5% because politics are a religion here – just as much as football. Mind you, this was down compared to the 95/96% General Elections turn-outs with 25% abstaining from voting.
Were these euro-skeptics? Nothing of the kind. The majority of these wanted to show their disillusionment with the two mainstream political parties, the governing Malta Labour Party (Partit Laburista) and the Opposition Nationalist Party (Partit Nazzjonalista).
The electoral campaign itself centred exclusively on local issues despite the fleeting visits of Euro heavyweights Martin Schulz (for the PL) and Claude Junkers (for the PN). Europe was hardly mentioned at all.
The result achieved a number of remarkable precedents with the governing Labour Party achieving a first in Malta’s electoral history by gaining a 53% majority of the votes – the first and only time a governing party achieved a majority in either EU or local elections during its term of governance. The Opposition slumped at 40%. The PL is claiming this was also a Euro first-time.
Of the six seats available, four were taken by women, the first time an EU country has elected a female majority of representatives. Three are lawyers and the fourth an entrepreneur, with both parties taking three seats. The Maltese Islands obviously feel safer with female representatives in Europe.
There was no noteworthy anti-EU vote with various minor parties faring badly. However, extreme right wing candidate Norman Lowell, who heads the Imperium Europa Party, grabbed 7,000 first preference votes which caused a great stir even though it was just under 25% of the required quota and he remained in contention when many other mainstream candidates were eliminated.
Lowell is definitely an eccentric character with some outrageous views. He is a former banker and holds a black belt in martial arts and karate. Some of his expressed views make Le Pen’s French “National Front” look very liberal in comparison.
He wants all black people and Arabs in Malta to be deported to their countries of origin, including their spouses and partners even though they may be Maltese. He wants Latin to be re-introduced as a common European tongue. He is anti-religious and vehemently anti-Islamic and anti-Roman Catholic. He derides Social Democrats as “Communists” and wants a euthanasia programme for babies born physically or mentally handicapped.
An interesting character indeed.
Other than that, there was little mention of the illegal immigration programme although the ruling PL has a commitment that the EU must awake and tackle the pending issue, further highlighted by subsequent figures after the election that 33% of last year’s European illegal immigrants landed in either Italy or Malta.
However, all of this will be submerged in the coming weeks with the World Cup looming. This also divides Malta into two main camps, those supporting England and those supporting Italy and of course both will clash in their first game in the competition. This support too stems from former political roots with PN supporters leaning towards the pro-Italian camp because of the party’s former stance in being pro-Italian and particularly pro-Mussolini, whilst the mainly pro-England fans were those who espoused the now-defunct Constitutional Party, very much pro-British.
However, in recent years support has also grown for Brazil, Germany, Spain and Holland. Tourists often stand askance as flag-bearing Maltese supporting different nations hurl insults and obscenities at each other
Indeed, politics and football in Malta do merge and mix – but that is another story.