Main causes of political apathy
During my political activities I meet many people and I have been struck by the apathy displayed by a substantial number of them towards Maltese politics.
One regularly hears cynical comments about politicians and remarks that manifest the disillusionment of many people with the state Maltese politics is in today. I will never forget how, last winter, when I was campaigning for the local council elections at Balzan, an old man told me and another Labour candidate to get lost because anybody who presented him/herself as a candidate for any election, whether for the local council, Parliament or the European Parliament, must necessarily be doing so for self-interest only. A nonsensical argument, in my opinion, but convincing enough for this old man to throw us out and shut the door in our faces!
What really worries me is that even several of our youths shun Maltese politics because they feel that there is a great difference between their idealistic view of what politics should be about and the stark and depressing reality of what it actually translates into in practice.
What has led to such a situation and what can we do about it?
One of the greatest culprits is the media. In my opinion, here in Malta we have too much of a slant towards the negative in many media productions. While we must not exaggerate and paint everything black, one has to admit that, with few exceptions, what we read, see and hear usually results in a totally negative experience.
What does the media present to us on a daily basis? Mostly sensational stories about the failures of politicians, alleged scandals, political intrigues and manoeuvres, etc. Yes, there are some notable exceptions, such as objective and well-researched newspaper articles, balanced television and radio political discussions, but these are a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of negative mediocrity disseminated.
Maltese politics has also been dealt a big blow by the recent decline in values in this sphere of public life. It started with the many scandals associated with local councils and it reached its apex with the Franco Debono saga.
Many people are today asking: “Whatever happened to the concept of public office as service to the community?” and “Is loyalty to one’s political party and one’s political leader a thing of the past?”
Add to all this, the ever-present back-stabbing between rival candidates and it is no wonder that many people today have a rather cynical perception of Maltese politics and politicians.
One of the most pernicious realities of politics in Malta is the way some people ingratiate themselves with the political parties and their candidates to further their own narrow self-interest. Many times, one meets people who state that they are supporting a particular candidate so that s/he will “remember” them when elected to power!
Those of us who are involved in public life because we feel that we have something to contribute to the community cannot tolerate persons who get involved in politics simply to see what they can get out of it for themselves alone.
It is really reprehensible to hear some people boast that they are actively canvassing so and so because, if elected, s/he will provide them with adequate recompense for their efforts like, say, a good job in the public service, a promotion, a lucrative contract etc. Such pseudo-canvassers have reduced politics to a marketplace where one provides a service in return for satisfactory compensation.
Unfortunately, this condemnable approach to politics is also having repercussions on the way people vote. How many people consider the national interest when voting? How many consider environmental issues, educational ones, for instance?
Let’s be honest with ourselves, a substantial number of voters will consider how a particular political party’s proposals will probably affect their pockets, first and foremost, when deciding on which political party will get their vote. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people stating that they will vote for a particular political party only if they get what they want.
Yes, I know that I have been rather negative in my analysis but this is the truth and it stares us in our faces. So what can we do about it?
First of all, examine what a political party stands for before giving it your confidence. Secondly, look closely at the quality of the candidates in an election. What are their values? Can they be trusted? What is their track record? By what kind of people are they surrounded?
On their part, political parties should ensure that their candidates see public office as a service to the community and that they treasure the value of loyalty to one’s leader, to one’s colleagues and to the electorate.
Yes, it is difficult to be an idealist and a successful politician. However, politics as a service to Malta and the Maltese remains the noble goal we have to strive to reach.