Malta Diary It’s all over bar the shouting – but is it?
I began my professional career as a sports journalist many hazy years ago, in September of 1965 to be exact, as the juvenile assistant to a very senior and veteran Sports Editor in a Maltese English Language newspaper. He was a former club and international player whose whole life had centred entirely around the game.
Writing up football reports came naturally to him but I was quick to perceive that he used many clichés in his descriptive narratives. One of these included “at this stage it was all over bar the shouting” to describe one team having taken an imposing and unassailable lead over the other.
Well, the Malta General Election is now definitely over – bar the shouting! The calling of a snap election five weeks ago triggered off intensive non-stop electioneering in what turned out to be the vilest, dirtiest mud-slinging election campaign ever with both main parties accusing each other continually of conspiracy, corruption and all kinds of mal-practices.
With the eruption of the volume of social media, the dirt became dirtier with the exchange of a barrage of insults and sleights couched in the most descriptive of foul language between ‘friends’ and the general public.
Thankfully, everything slid to an abrupt halt at midnight on Thursday, 1st June in what should have been a 24-hour period “day of reflection” with political parties, politicians, newspapers and the broadcasting media legally banned from making any pronouncements or announcements.
However, this proved to be no deterrent to the social media and the mud-slinging in fact intensified. All political sides cried “foul” but a rapid interpretation of the Law established the ban did not cover “private and personal views” and so the battles continued to rage on Facebook.
On polling day, on Saturday 3rd June, the polls opened at 07.00 and already large queues had formed. Yep, the Maltese are fanatical about their elections! By 14.00, 52% of the electorate had already voted and when the polls closed at 22.00, 91% was the final poll, slightly less than normal but still ranking as probably the highest in Europe where voting is voluntary.
And the tension began and you could slice through the silence with a knife. Overnight, all the voting boxes were collected from 90 booths throughout Malta and Gozo and transported to the electoral hall in Naxxar. Their seals were cracked and the boxes placed at their designated district locations.
Malta and Gozo are divided into 13 regional districts for an election. Everything was set to go by 10.00 on Sunday 4th June morning and the tension mounted unbearably, with Electoral Office officials, party agents, party representatives and politicians milling around the counting areas.
The counting process has remained manual but the parties use a slick system for establishing an almost immediate result. Party agents are armed with checking meters, the ballot paper votes easily discernible because of the different colours used by the parties. As the ballot papers are flipped on tables in bunches of 50, face upwards, the agents see the NO 1 vote (more about this later) and click their meter.
Each party monitors two batches of 50 from every district, total them up and virtually establish the result. Within the hour, by 11.00, the result became known, a resounding victory for the incumbent Labour Party and the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. The hall erupted in a roar as Labour Party agents sang and banged on everything that could be banged.
Within seconds the estimated result became known throughout Malta and Gozo and out came the car cades, the roads jam-packed with highly-coloured party flags and Maltese flags on cars, trucks, motor cycles and anything else moveable, horns honking incessantly, music blaring everywhere to a background of fireworks explosions as the triumphant celebrated and the defeated locked themselves in behind shuttered doors and windows, commiserating.
The actual final result took 55 hours to produce and announce the 65 elected candidates with the Labour Party gaining 55% of the vote against the 43% of the Nationalist Party, a difference of over 35,000 votes and a landslide in Malta terms, in fact the largest margin of victory ever.
Why such a lengthy delay in an electronic world? The system is still manual and laborious and most complex because of a system of Proportional Representation.
A ballot paper may have 30 or 35 candidates listed and the voter has to register their preference on a numerical basis starting at No 1 for their most favoured. A voter may well vote for every candidate under the preference system, or even for just one candidate. The norm is that a party voter will vote for all their party candidates and ignore all the others.
A quota of votes needed to be elected is established in every district, that being the total number of votes cast in the district, divisible by five (five seats in every District), plus one vote. Votes are transferable and successive counts begin, the candidates with least votes being eliminated at every count.
The votes from those eliminated (or excess votes of those elected from the first count that go over the quota) are then placed in order of next preference to the next preferred candidate voted for until the whole system is complete.
There are plans that by the next election the whole process will be on an electronic basis to yield a much faster result.
The final result – a Labour Government for the next term of five years and the disintegration of the Opposition and the virtually immediate resignation of all of its top officials.
So now, it’s all over bar the shouting – but is it? Politics and politicians are ongoing … naturally for the good of “the people” … or are they? Anyway, that’s what the politicians tell us …