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Who will win the election?

Wherever you go in the Maltese islands today, people are asking the same question: Who will win the next general election? Will it be Alfred Sant and the Malta Labour Party? Or will Lawrence Gonzi and the Nationalist Party snatch victory out of the jaws of a seemingly inevitable defeat?

Make no mistake about it, my friends, the next general election will be a hard-fought one and the result still hangs very much in the balance. It will come as no surprise to me if the margin of victory and defeat separating the two main political parties will be very small. One must also not discount the impact on voters of Malta's third political party, Alternattiva Demokratika.

Let me start with one very important point. Do not write off the Nationalist Party. Given its abysmal record in government, some people have already started preparing for its political funeral. They could not be more mistaken! First of all, it is a grave error to assume that people vote rationally. In an ideal situation, a voter would analyse the performance of the PN in government, study its general election manifesto and compare everything with what the MLP and AD are offering.

In real life, however, things do not work out like this. The hard-core supporters will always vote for the political party they support, irrespective of its performance when in government or in opposition and they could not care less about political manifestos. Then there are those voters who will vote for the political party which will best serve their narrow, self interest. These are the people whose view of politics is that of getting the best returns possible for their investment. Their investment means their support for a particular political party or candidate and their returns mean promotions, contracts, any form of clientelism that you can think of. Unfortunately, the Maltese islands are plagued with a very large number of such voters.

Finally, there are the intellectuals. These are the people who usually decide the outcome of a general election, the so-called "floaters", people who have no particular affiliation to one particular political party or another and who will vote according to what they perceive to be the best choice for the future of their country and its citizens.

For an analysis to be complete, one must take into consideration the general apathy towards politics that exists among several potential voters at present. There are many people who are disgusted with the performance of the Nationalist government and, yet, they do not have faith in a Labour alternative and do not feel comfortable in voting for AD. Which means that the number of people who will not be voting or who will be cancelling their vote at the next general election could be rather high.

So where does all this leave us?

In such a situation, the political party in government has a great advantage, especially since it is obvious that the Nationalist administration of Lawrence Gonzi makes no distinction between party and government in its actions. With the whole state apparatus at its disposal, the PN has the added advantage of superior media resources and greater financial backing. One has to remember that people will vote according to what they perceive to be the truth about the political situation in the country. Perception is different from reality but if the political party in power manages to convince voters that it is doing a good job, then victory may be within its grasp.

The PN has already started its general election campaign. It is actively promoting the concept of years of sacrifices that are yielding excellent results for the generation of today and, especially, for future generations. Dr Gonzi is being presented as a leader who does not fear challenges but who, instead, uses them as catalysts of change and progress in the country. This is mostly nonsense, of course, but repeating it on a continuous daily basis, drumming it into the heads of potential voters, it is bound to have an effect.

Do you remember the European Union membership or partnership debate? How the PN mobilised all its state apparatus and media resources to brainwash the electorate into voting for EU membership? It even managed to persuade a substantial number of Labour supporters into giving it first preference in their vote at the 2003 general election. This time around, there will not be the EU issue to give a hand to the PN but the state apparatus, the excellent media resources and the substantial financial backing from influential supporters will still be there.

Against this, the MLP can offer a leader of calibre and great integrity, a team of excellent candidates and a creative programme of solutions for the country's problems. All this backed by its media, which works wonders with very limited resources and with the financial backing of the working class which can never match the financial support the PN enjoys. The resources available to the third political party, AD, are, of course, even less.

So if you, my friends who are reading this article, know deep down that only a Labour victory at the next general election can rescue this country from the abyss the Gonzi administration has thrown it into but have still decided to give your vote to the PN at the next general election because you usually vote PN and because you believe that, anyway, the MLP will probably win easily so that the impact of your personal vote will not be that great, be careful because you might be in for a nasty surprise!

The sum of all fears, another PN victory at the next general election, might become a reality. That would mean a bleak future for you and your children and the reduction of the MLP to an insignificant political force with all the attendant ills this would bring with it for the future of democracy in the Maltese islands.

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