Who's a selfish, grudge-bearer?
I like my former lecturer Austin Bencini far too much to imagine that he would have wished to brand me and other voters like cows. But he has - unintentionally, of course.
In recently published articles about coalitions and voting choices, he has made reference to people who intend to vote for Alternattiva Demokrattika. And Dr Bencini inexplicably concluded that all such votes are protest votes and since "these protest votes do not belong to them they will return to the other party at some time or other". The same sort of language was used by Nationalist candidate Clyde Puli on a television programme this week. He was bellowing at AD spokesman Mario Mallia for "taking Nationalist votes".
The implication is clear - once you have voted for the PN or MLP you are branded in the same way as cows are branded with fire irons. The PN/MLP brand is scorched indelibly into your skin and you are deemed to be property of the major party you voted for - permanently. Should you try to venture to other pastures or dare to vote for a minor party, all hell breaks loose. Attempts are made to corral you back to the holding pen and - if you actually vote for another party - that party has "stolen" your vote.
The cow branding analogy might not be perfect but it shows how ridiculous all this talk of votes "belonging to", or being "stolen from" any party is. Votes do not belong to any political party. It is the voter who may exercise the right to choose the person whom he thinks may represent him best.
Even though it should be clear that votes cannot be stolen, this sort of baseless claim continues to be made. The most recent "AD is stealing our votes" accusation came by way of an e-mail which pinged into my mailbox. It was an article by columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia which had originally been published in another newspaper. Having been adapted and renamed as "Why a vote for AD is a vote for Alfred Sant" it was forwarded to various recipients with the author's exhortations to circulate. Later I received yet another shorter version with big, red letters ordering me to pass it on to anybody who intended to vote for AD. I'm not a big fan of chain e-mails. I like those containing a whole set of incorrect, simplistic assumptions even less. So I decided to address a few of the most sloppy forwarded.
The first relates to the voting profile of people more likely to support AD. They are variously described as the Sliema-Swieqi types, people who only care about themselves or their ideals and the car-park in their backyard (which is slightly better than the way they were described in an online comment by the same author as "those whose bitterness, grudges, nimbyism and sense of personal disappointment have made vulnerable."). The crude stereotyping doesn't stop there. According to Caruana Galizia, the only votes which AD attracts are from people whose sympathies are more in line with Nationalist Party thought.
This kind of conclusion completely ignores the fact that there is a core green vote which may have voted for the PN to secure EU accession and which now feels free to vote for a party which reflects its ideals more closely. These are the people who would not vote for either the PN or the MLP and who would probably not vote at all if AD were not in the running. These have to be factored in, as should the new voters and former PN supporters who welcome a multi-party approach to politics.
This is the voting pool from which AD tries to garner support - as do the major parties. It is rather nonsensical to rail against AD for trying to attract votes from a particular sector - which political party wouldn't? Judging by the frenzied onslaught of the PN machine on this so-called demographic, that's precisely what it's doing.
The second shaky argument put forward in the article is one based on the politics of fear - fear of Alfred Sant, to be more precise. This is the argument which would have us holding our nose and voting PN even if we were profoundly disappointed with its performance during the past legislature. "Vote for the lesser of the two evils" is the repeated mantra here, "otherwise Sant will get in and catastrophe will ensue".
I'm not buying it. Apart from the fact that the post-apocalyptic visions being drummed up are purely speculative, the most dismal prospect I can imagine is not the return of either the MLP or the PN to power - it is the continuation of this alternating one-party system of government. It is a system where both major parties are financed by the same lobby groups and won't reveal it. It is a divisive and tribal system where honest criticism is frowned upon if it dents election chances. That is a more frightening prospect then the meltdown scenario dreamt up by PN/MLP exponents.
A more inclusive multi-party system would start doing away with this non-productive form of politics. People who vote for AD for this process to begin, are not voting for Sant or the absurd one-man Gonzipn party. They are voting for a completely different set-up. If some 2,500 voters do so in one district, then an AD candidate is elected and their vote would not have been "wasted". On the other hand, a vote is wasted when instead of voting for the party of your choice, you opt for a candidate you don't trust because you're afraid of the other. That means that the party you like, but were afraid to vote for, loses its support and the issues which it promotes are put on the backburner by the major parties in Parliament.
Another inaccurate statement made is that relating to the possibility of a coalition government being formed between AD and one of the major parties.
PN pundits keep saying it's impossible. They're wrong. If no party obtains an absolute majority of the votes, and AD manages to obtain one parliamentary seat, then it can link up with another party which shares its goals and priorities. And no - coalitions aren't those volatile formations where parliament is dissolved at the drop of a hat and where minor coalition parties hold everybody to ransom with unreasonable demands.
Besides considering the fact that this would be political suicide for that minor coalition partner, it would be a good idea to have a look at the majority of European countries where coalition governments are stable and effective and allow for more consensual politics. So before you click the 'Forward' button on dodgy articles describing voters as grudge-bearing NIMBYs, who should vote for one party in perpetuity, pause for a moment and consider whether the 'Delete' button is preferable.