By the time this piece is published all of us would have gone to vote or refrained from doing so. The elections for the European Parliament will be all over bar the shouting. The hustle and bustle, the accusations, the outright lies, the nasty implications, the non-sequiturs and much other irrelevant drivel will all be a thing of the past – except for those who sued for libel and who will know whether they did the right thing only in another six or seven years.
The elections for the European Parliament, that for the party in government are – by sheer coincidence – very inconveniently timed, will leave us exactly as we were. The grumpy Nationalist supporters who abused of the elections to protest because of something they did not get or did not like, will still be exactly where they were. The gullible Labour voters, who believe that a large victory for their party in these elections would spur the Prime Minister to call it a day, will also remain exactly as they were. And as gullible as they were, believing that their party might be in government much before the present administration’s term of office expires in 2013. The few faithful believers in Alternattiva Demokratika will remain as disappointed as they have always been.
Even the result will probably leave everything as it was – or almost, were it not for the potential sixth seat. It is not even in the realms of foresight to predict that the five elected this week will be three Labour MEPs and two Nationalist MEPs. The sixth MEP – whenever he or she materialises – is more difficult to predict; not that I will not give it a try!
Incredible as it may seems, all the efforts made by all the contestants will practically lead to no change. So why did they take the trouble and expense to build up all the trappings of a fully fledged electoral battle?
Let’s first consider Joseph Muscat at the helm of the Labour Party for just twelve months. The last time around, Alfred Sant won the battle hands down and Muscat cannot afford to lose a battle that Sant won. Five years ago Labour got five seats with less than half the first preference votes as they only got 48.4% of the votes cast. This time Labour was clearly aiming at getting more that 50% of the valid votes cast and even if this just translates into retaining those three seats for practical purposes, Muscat will claim a moral victory of gigantic proportions: Labour has – finally – again won the majority of votes in a nationwide contest, something that it did not do since the 1996 elections thirteen years ago.
For Joseph Muscat this ‘triumph’ is a sine qua non. If he does not manage it, his promise will get a big thumping setback. If he does – as I expect he will – his image as the one who can beat Lawrence Gonzi at the polls will take a magnificent boost and his already puffed-up ego will swell even more!
So for Muscat, the aim of the game was not just retaining three Labour MEPs but exceeding 50% of the votes cast.
On the other side of the political divide, Lawrence Gonzi must have known that it was well nigh impossible for the PN to garner more votes than the PL and win three out of the five seats available. This is the second time that the PN contested the EP elections with Gonzi as party leader. His efforts five years ago only managed to garner 39.8% of the votes – the lowest figure the PN obtained in a national election in some forty years. The elections were held only a few weeks after Lawrence Gonzi became Prime Minister and hardly served to be an auspicious start to his premiership. Yet, some of the blame must be put on the PN’s low key lacklustre campaign five years ago. Some cynically imply that this was purposely planned by former PN general secretary, Joe Saliba, to ‘shock’ people into realising that a Labour victory is never impossible. I seriously doubt it.
It is obvious that this time around, the PN and Lawrence Gonzi cannot afford the same type of debacle. Obtaining over 40% of the votes would be a more respectable result; and even though that would be nowhere near upsetting Labour’s three seats, the PN machine this time went full blast with that realistic aim in sight.
What about the rest? Undoubtedly Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) and Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) will fare better than they did in the elections in March last year but they will be nowhere near getting one of the five seats. Yet AD’s aim must be to repeat the result they obtained five years ago when Arnold Cassola was the last candidate not to be elected without being eliminated. In this position, Cassola would garner the sixth seat when it materialises. However, I seriously doubt whether he will manage to repeat the same trick this time around. Cassola’s use of his dual nationality that led to his brief sojourn as an Italian MP as a Green party member in Prodi’s short-lived left-wing coalition has irked more people than he cares to imagine.
So in this paradoxical campaign, that was fought on issues that are mostly irrelevant to what happens in the European Parliament, the real battle was actually for the candidate who will not be elected! This is Malta, after all.
But who will get the sixth seat? Will it be Labour pushing their three to four, the PN surreptitiously equalling Labour even though they were decisively beaten by them, or the evergreen Cassola repeating his performance five years ago?
Personally, I think Cassola will not get the same number of votes he got five years ago and therefore I consider his chances of getting the sixth seat as minimal. This explains why the PN and the PL have been so blatantly at each other’s throats in this campaign.
Of course, in this game the mathematics is intriguing. The quota worked on five seats amounts to 16.67%. To get three seats Labour need 50%. To get two seats the PN needs 33.33%. The question therefore is: how many votes will labour get over 50%? Will they amount to more than the PN will get over 33.33%? I do not think so.
And that is why, barring Arnold Cassola repeating last time’s performance and some freaky cross-party vote transfers, the PN has a good chance of ending up with three seats in the European Parliament equalling Labour’s number after having been soundly beaten by them!
If this happens, it will make Muscat’s victory a Pyrrhic one indeed.