Malta Diary Bring out The Gladiators – waiting for “the Mother of all Battles”
Maltese General Elections are ALWAYS fiercely contested – without exception – and the snap election called for Saturday, 3rd June certainly one of the fiercest. In islands where voting is purely voluntary, the poll always varies from 96% to 98%.
These are gladiatorial battles of cut and thrust, accusations and counter-accusations replete and resonating with cries of ‘shame’, ‘corruption’, ‘lies’, ‘liar’, crammed with legal actions of libel, slander and calumny and anything else in the book of sleights and smears, nowadays larded with lashings of spin and counter-spin.
This is the Central Mediterranean, temperaments are hot and volatile, packed with tension and anxiety but then the Maltese Islands have been on a war footing for two millenniums, mostly against foreign invaders. Since Independence in 1964, these have now become civil wars.
The distinct difference in this particular election is that it is a fight to the death – in true gladiatorial spirit, and tensions are even higher.
Appeals for calm by the President of the Maltese Republic, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, have fallen on deaf ears despite her constant pleas for the use of civil language and the reminder that “after all, we are all Maltese”. Similar appeals by Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Gozo Bishop Grech have similarly remained unheeded.
Divisions run too deep for that and pique remains uppermost, as it has always been. The main protagonists are the two leading and very dominant parties. Pre the Second World War there were two main protagonists. These were the Progressive Constitutional Party headed by British-born Lord Gerald Strickland and therefore obviously very pro-British and the Nationalist Party which traditionally pandered to the working class elements and had pro-Italian inclinations.
Post Second World War, the scenario changed dramatically as a result of the enormous increase in popularity of the Malta Labour Party, with the PCP gradually fading into extinction and the MLP mainly “stealing” the working class element from the Nationalist Party.
Nowadays, the distinction of class difference and economic divergence has declined sharply and they have become representative of all sectors although there still lingers remnants of radicalism and ‘fair dealings for the working man’ in Labour as against the more traditional conservative and pro-religious attitude of the opposing NP.
However, over the last five years these traditional elements have declined too. The Malta Labour Party has become The Labour Party, classes itself as a movement, claims to appeal to all and has pioneered a system of Government cooperating with private enterprise, which, by all international statistics, has worked wonders for the economy. The Nationalist Party has vastly reduced its dependence on the conservative and religious element and has been at pains to manifest its ‘liberal’ credentials.
Old habits however die hard and there are still traditional family structures of long-standing that invariably support either one party or the other although over the last five years too there had been an increase of “floaters” who decide on performance rather than family traditions and naturally enough nowadays both parties strive to mobilise their traditional support while appealing to ‘floaters’ as this is gradually becoming a telling factor.
Large swathes of the electorate take matters seriously. Despite all the electronic enhancements of direct filming, websites and social media, both parties still organise “mass meetings” which attract thousands in shows of support. The social media, particularly Facebook, is fierce with slanging matches and propaganda reflections.
What has caused this snap election? The Labour camp (currently in Government) has been suffering from constant allegations of being run by “corrupt” elements, countered by claims of “current and former corrupt practices” by the Nationalist Party (now the Opposition).
The NP has undergone a curious development by forming a “national force coalition” with a newly-formed Democratic Party headed by a former but now renegade Labour MP who will run on an NP ballot but with its own candidates and logo. A third party, the Alternattiva Demokratika (the Greens) was invited to join the coalition but sharply declined after a few preliminary discussions.
Matters have been brewing steadily to boiling point over the last 12 months but reached a head three weeks ago when the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was accused of having a secret Panama company in his wife’s name, by the Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil.
His response was “enough is enough now” and he called for the Magistrate’s Court to carry out a full Inquiry into the allegations and a few days later announcing a snap election during May Day celebrations – traditionally an enormous event for the Labour Party.
Since then the cut and thrust has escalated to further boiling point as temperament began to take an emotional hold, more libel and calumny cases for Court and the country watching the step-by-step battles amidst a non-stop flurry of public meetings, mass meetings and continual media exposure of every possible twist and turn.
To add some light relief, a Nazzareno Bonnici, known as “Zaren ta’ l-Ajkla” (an ajkla is an eagle) has put forward his candidacy as an independent and attracts large crowds entertained by fun and merriment, while two other minor parties will also contest as well as a handful of other independent candidates.
Everything is on hold, deeply frozen in a time warp and the country awaits the outcome with bated breath, on tenterhooks. There are still a number of days to go before polling day and matters can only get worse ….
Just as a note of interest, the film “The Gladiators” was shot in Malta in 1999. The current situation certainly merits a re-making!