Prosy points about the election result
As was to be expected, last Sunday I commented on the election of Pope Francis and its possible implications for the Church instead of discussing the result of our own general election. I gave my take on that result in my blog on timesofmalta.com only a couple of hours after the result was unofficially announced.
I will try to compensate today.
The Labour tsunami of March 10 should not be taken on its own. It is the third in a series of tsunamis within a space of just under four years. The first tidal wave hit us in 2009 in the form of the result of the European Parliament election. The Nationalist Party garnered 40.5 per cent of the vote while the Labour Party reaped the ayes of almost 55 per cent of the electorate. Take two was the result of the divorce referendum in 2011. Fifty-three per cent voted for the introduction of divorce while 46 per cent were against it.
I suggest that the full significance of the election result and its implications to the current state of socio-cultural environment of our country can only be arrived at by combining it with the two waves that preceded it. These three results show that the country has shifted dramatically both on the level of politics and the level of values. It would be naïve not to notice the close connection between politics and values. The significance of these three results when taken together should be better researched, commented on, as well as reflected upon to discover their implications for, among others, our political and religious spheres.
In view of the above I suggest that while the reasons for the defeat of the PN are many and varied, one of the main causes of the debacle was the inability of the PN to understand and manage well the transformed socio-cultural environment that prevails today in our country.
The transformation of our socio-cultural environment, to a large extent, is the unintended by-product of the work of successive Nationalist administrations. I will just point to a few factors that radicalised our country: the liberalisation of the economy; broadcasting pluralism; the placing of democracy on a sound footing; the commercialisation of the print media (possible only because of a strong consumer economy); the devolution of power through the local councils; the accession into the European Union, and the popularisation of the internet.
For a number of reasons which space bars me from entertaining here, these events and processes contributed immensely, together with other factors, towards the secularisation of culture and of values that underpin Maltese society. The Nationalist electoral disaster is substantially due to the fact that while the Nationalist administration succeeded to weather quite well the international economic crisis, it did not navigate well enough the changing socio-cultural infrastructure of our ever-changing society.
It was very evident during the electoral campaign that the PN emphasised more than anything else the economic or bread-and- butter issues. This was probably done as elections everywhere are won and lost on such issues. This is aptly described as the ‘it’s the economy stupid’ syndrome.
Since the economy is going well, particularly when compared to economies around us we should win, reasoned the Nationalist strategists, they flogged that horse while adding education and health as the other important issues to widen the bread-and- butter appeal.
On the other hand, Labour targeted an aspect of the micro-economy – “l-ekonomija tal-kċina”, (“the economy of the kitchen”) Joseph Muscat used to say – which many people felt was hurting them. The targeting of the utility bills was Labour’s reaction to the slogan: ‘It’s the economy, stupid’.
Moreover, Labour also targeted the symbolic universe of people who were not too hard-pressed with the electricity bills but who were looking for a reason which could amply justify their eagerness for change. This was done by the slogan ‘Malta tagħna lkoll’ and by Muscat’s constant reinterpretation of Maltese history, emphasising the Maltese patriotic element over the partisan divide.
The PN did not have a similar dimension to their campaign. Moreover, they brushed aside such considerations while trying to brush aside even Muscat himself. It turned out that the electorate had a different estimation altogether.
Seen in this perspective, the PN, in my opinion, not only has to re-build its structure but also to rediscover its vision and mission in this new secularised socio-cultural environment for which, ironically enough, they themselves provided the humus that could nourish it.
It is ironic that the party of ‘Religio et Patria’ ended up facilitating the secularisation of Malta more than others did.
The more daunting task facing the PN today is to find its appropriate role in this secularised environment without denouncing its Christian Democratic roots.
There have already been attempts in this direction. However, the document L-Għeruq Tagħna and the political manifesto published at the beginning of the campaign never really made it into the consciousness or the subconsciousness of most of its MPs or grassroots. The less one speculates about its absorption by the general Maltese voter, the better.
These three tsunamis also have implications for the religious component of the symbolic universe of the Maltese and for the ecclesiastical establishment. The Maltese, for example, are moving from dogmatism to pragmatism, from loyalty to the institutions to loyalty towards their self-interest.
The Church should also take stock of the situation. Had the Church been a political party it would been in deep crisis. People have been voting with their feet, so much so that almost one per cent every year stop going to Mass on Sunday. Instead of facing this situation we stopped holding Mass censuses.
In the divorce referendum people used their hands besides their feet: they clearly pencilled down their position in contradiction to that of the Church hierarchy. We reacted by saying that we won the referendum! This was an upside-down version of what a reality check should be.
The Church still has to come to grips with the radical changes in society that are directly affecting it. Denial, alienation and parcelling blame here and there are the strongest elements of the Church’s reaction to these changes of tsunami proportions. On top of many other signs, we have just had the third popular clarion call clearly stating that things are changing. Will we remain unmoved?