Malta Diary “Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s the truth, Oh Baby!”
There is a certain charm and beauty about Malta and Gozo that one can only discover by actually living here. Irrelative of circumstances and developments, eternal optimism always rides high.
From a small cluster of islands that have always been foreign dominated and brow beaten until Independence was achieved in 1964 and since 1979 secured a non-military foreign presence since the start of recorded history, this is to be expected. The people have not survived one war, or two, but scores of wars, sieges, invasions, bombardments, deaths, murders and various other assorted atrocities. The rational thinking is that having survived all this, the rest is a piece of cake.
Let’s take elections which elections, any kind, are campaigned, fought and voted for with a fervency that is almost spiritually religious, I feel that in Malta these have a quality which is unique.
On Saturday, 11th April there were two important ballots, one a Referendum in which the country was asked to decide “No” or “Yes” whether Spring Hunting of migrating birds was to be permitted and the other Local Council Elections for half of Malta and Gozo’s councils.
Both ballots were assiduously and relentlessly campaigned for as if the very existence of continued humanity depended on them. The Referendum was non-political but Local Councils are contested by the two major political parties, a much smaller party and various independent candidates. Public televised and broadcast debates, discussions and meetings were relentless and continual with a Mediterranean fervour that quite often becomes vehement and mud-slinging and sprawl into the private domain of public and private arguments that more often than not produce family divisions.
In a country where voting is not obligatory, the Referendum drew a poll of 73% with the hunting lobby triumphing by a whisker, a mere 2,000 votes. The hunting lobby was euphoric, the anti-lobby despondent and disappointed, blaming the Government and the Opposition for publicly backing the hunters, However, the anti-lobby made up of strong environmentalists openly warned politicians to keep in mind that although 50.3% were in favour, 49.7% were against and that as from henceforth environmental issues would be of high agenda profile.
Both therefore acclaimed a victory of sorts.
With that out of the way, Local Council election votes were counted, but these require explanation. The Referendum was a “straight past the post affair” of “Yes” or “No”. Elective elections are on a Proportional Representation basis with all the district’s candidates listed and voting expressed on a number preferential system of transferable votes. In fact, one can vote for ALL the candidates on a numbered preferential system. Counting obviously takes time.
All the district votes are counted in a Counting Hall, an internal coral encompassed by ceiling high transparent perspex with the counting officials inside the coral and hundreds of candidates, authorised party agents and canvassers outside the coral hawkishly watching the opening of the sealed boxes, the sorting of votes and the counting of every vote, where it is placed and how it is transferred. Party agents are supplied with counting meters and a sample of 50 votes and their voting patterns from every district gives an almost immediate result.
The atmosphere in the hall is simply electric and matters can get frantic, voluble and noisy. When agents and canvassers have an objection, they bang loudly on the perspex, scream and holler until this is rectified. Party opponents can also get physical, hence the very strong police presence to calm matters down. When candidates are elected having reached the quota required, there is more banging on the perspex, singing of party hymns and general euphoria.
In a country in which a General Election poll rarely falls below 95% of the registered electorate, these Local elections drew 68% to vote, which is much, much higher than the European average for local elections.
When all was done and dusted, all factions claimed a victory of sorts. Candidates of the incumbent governing Malta Labour Party gained 54% of the votes, the first time a ruling Party had also won mid-term elections – and in such an emphatic manner – triumphantly claiming a seventh successive victory at the polls and stating the 2013 voting advantage over the Opposition Nationalist Party at the last General Elections had been maintained at the same level.
Not to be outdone, the Nationalist Party claimed the voting trend should be compared to the 2012 Local Election results in which case they had managed to halve the disadvantage and had made “inroads” into the Government’s popularity and had “dented” the Prime Minister’s “invincibility”.
Take statistics as you will – after all, that is what they are there for. Not to be outdone, the minor Democratic Alternative Party also claimed “success” because they had also increased their votes.
Yep, everyone’s a winner baby – and that is how all Maltese elections result, with all sides claiming to have found the silver lining.
Hence ended the first two weeks of April, hallmarked by triumphalism and much trumpet-blowing, underscored by the tragic and sombre deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants and the sad news that Malta’s first internationally-recognised Maltese tenor Paul Axiak (covered by an article here some weeks ago) had passed away at the ripe old age of 92. At the height of his fame Axiak was part of the Covent Garden opera company as a leading tenor and was also the man responsible for tutoring to fame Malta’s current international tenor Joseph Callejja.
A sad week interspersed with much trauma, tragedy and triumphalism in an archipelago of small islands that for some reason or other never stop vibrating on an axis of triumph at one end of the scale to tragedy and sorrow at the other extreme, and in the words of songwriter Errol Brown and his 1978 hit for the “Hot Chocolate” group:
“Everyone’s a winner baby, that’s no lie (yes, no lie)
You never fail to satisfy