EDITORIAL  | ELECTION SPECIAL  | Monday, 10 March 2008

After this photofinish: Rise to the occasion

The Nationalist Party, after over 20 years in government (since 1987), has pulled off a narrow yet remarkable electoral victory winning by a relative majority of just 1,200 votes.
It is a first for Malta, reminiscent of the Florida result in the 2000 American national election. The result is also a personal endorsement for Lawrence Gonzi, who fought and won this election single-handedly in view of the strategic decision to fight a presidential-style campaign. Politically this was a dangerous gamble, which effectively saw the leader of the Nationalist party placing his job on the line. In the end, it paid off.
But this election result also leaves us with a fractured country, split directly down the middle, with an increasing number of disenfranchised citizens. The neck-and-neck scenario, fought down to the wire, was a photo finish if there ever was one. It also exposed a number of our national idiosyncrasies, and calls for political analysis of the implications of the closeness of the vote.
In a little way, the election result also vindicates our much-maligned surveys, which have always showed very clear electoral trends.
One thing is clear: the people have spoken. They have endorsed the policies of the ruling party; but the people also sent a message to the Nationalist Party by reducing its majority. There is much change fine tuning and soul searching to be done.
The PN must take stock of this protest and respond accordingly.
It is a different ball game now, and the closeness of the vote calls for a truly different way of doing politics. Political conclusions should be drawn from this narrowest of victories. First and foremost this should encourage Gonzi to act nationally and to do away once and for all with the culture of winner takes all, which has permeated our political system where traditionally the winner picked up all the spoils and totally ignored the opposition. Accordingly, appointments should be offered also to persons with different political leanings.
Dr Gonzi should take note of this close result and break with tradition once and for all by emulating French President Nicolas Sarkozy (in more than just mimicry of his electoral slogan). He must appreciate that his majority has been watered down from that achieved by the Nationalist party in 2003; this result must not be allowed to degenerate into a situation whereby half the population feels disenfranchised and out of the political loop, as this can only have ripple effects on the national mood and future well being of the country. It is up to the PM to rise to the occasion and act like a statesman to unite the country after this narrowest of victories.
The result also has consequences on the Labour party and its leadership. Surely it marks the close of the chapter of Dr Sant as leader. The MLP, too, needs to undertake a soul-searching process and certainly to put into motion the process to change its leader, after his third consecutive electoral defeat.
It must also revisit its policies to see which needs to be fine-tuned, adjusted or indeed changed altogether. It has to ask itself why the electorate has opted to keep it in opposition for nearly quarter of a century.
In the national interest, we expect that, while the winning party implements its electoral programme which has been endorsed by the people, it also considers taking a leaf out of the electoral programmes of the other parties. It may wish to consider implementing a few of the other party proposals, especially in the social field and in that of the environment; as well as the fight against corruption and in norms of accountability and transparency.
These are all part and parcel of the European way of doing politics and in this – our first election since EU membership – government should consider acting boldly.
This unthinkable result is conclusive proof of the need to reform our electoral law with the full implication of covering all wasted votes with the insertion of a threshold clause, which gives a fighting chance to all small parties to gain representation in parliament.
This result also calls into question our method of counting votes. Surely the absurdity of waiting 10 hours to get the result should galvanise the parties to agree to have an electoral process that lends itself to a more open democracy and a faster more effective counting system.
Reforming the electoral system and process should be at the top of the agenda for Dr Gonzi.

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Issue 3 - 28 February 2008

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