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Opinion | Wednesday, 10 March 2010 Issue. 154

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The first internet election

I am more than certain that the next general election will be Malta’s first internet election and the political candidates must be well-versed in this medium because the internet will determine who will win the general elections.
Barack Obama effectively used online tools to rally supporters, campaign, defend himself from attacks and communicate with constituents. Even the octogenarian prime ministerial Indian candidate, L. K. Advani, in last year’s Indian election reached out to youth through live chats and his website.
Advani is also on Facebook, Orkut and YouTube. In the next general elections local politicians must follow in their footsteps, and the internet is poised to play a larger role in the next general elections.
Even their attitude has to change. I am afraid to say that many members of parliament do not live up to what is expected of them; few of them study the subject of discussion and they tend to focus more on their personal campaign than on their party’s political campaign.
I think that now that Labour has its ‘Moviment Gdid’ it must now embark on a ‘Sistema Gdida’ or change in the modus operandi of its Members of Parliament so that the interests of the party come before their own.
Even supporters have to create groups on social networking sites such as Facebook to rally voters. I have already written about how personal and bitchy the next general election is going to be, and so far Labour supporters are nowhere to be seen on the web. We all know that the internet provides a way to appeal to young people, and to those who are apathetic toward the polls.
The Nationalist Party always has had a good network of people or ‘spies’ in every sector so that they can report to the headquarters what is taking place. I remember the 1970s and 1980s, when staunch Nationalists who had a sick leave record at their place of work mysteriously came back to life when the Nationalist Party came to power, and are still going strong today.
Labour does not have this network and its members of parliament make little effort to infiltrate the government’s institutions and report their wrongdoings. I feel very lost when certain MPs say that they only care about their re-election and have no time for anything else.
Not only that, but the reports come mostly from non - Labour sources. The people surrounding Muscat must act as good ambassadors, because one false step will dismantle what Muscat is building for the next general elections.
Even their public relations are still weak. Responses to attacks are not immediate, when we all know that a candidate must respond to an opponent’s attacks within the day. The Nationalist Party does this very craftily and any attack from outside is immediately responded to by a press release even if it is late in the night.
The Nationalist Party lets surrogates or substitutes attack its opponents. Be it so-called ‘independent journalists’ or ‘independent programmes’, the Nationalist Party uses these substitutes very well. We have seen this on Bondiplus lately, which conveyed the government’s message that the unions protests was politically motivated and not a trade union issue. This is still an area where Labour needs to develop its ideas.
Labour, on the other hand, is doing a good job in focusing on receiving votes from independent voters. It is useless campaigning for the votes that you already have and Labour is careful in not focusing on the groups of voters who usually vote for the party. The focus is to campaign, to receive votes from the other party’s voters who are unhappy with their party. Muscat is conducting a good campaign as a moderate, targeting independent voters.
The Nationalist Party avoids real issues in its media campaign and does not dare discuss hot issues such as abortion or divorce. Labour, on the other hand, still has to learn not to discuss or offer solutions to these hot social issues. Take the case of deputy leader Toni Abela who fell into this trap by being honest about abortion: all hell broke loose and the PN interpreted his honesty as being in favour of abortion when this was not the case.
But when this happens, any party alienates certain segments of society and loses votes. In effect when Reagan was asked what he would do about abortion he avoided giving a solution and said, “There’s one individual who isn’t considered at all. That’s the one who is being aborted.”
Advertising is indispensible for any campaign and in this day and age the most powerful tools of advertising are undoubtedly television and the internet. I cannot understand how the political parties make use of the newspapers and radio stations when the television can reach more people, and the internet can reach those who, I believe, will determine the outcome of the next general election.
Emotions play a great part in an election and good politicians focus on the emotional appeal. In fact, experts tell you never to focus on the logical appeal, because it is a known fact that voters vote with their emotions. Both Muscat and Gonzi know this (and their wives even more) and they will have a field day attacking each other as to what will happen if one or the other is elected. I can already see Muscat telling the voters: “Taxes are too high. Elect me and I will give you tax rebates”; and Gonzi replying: “The election of my opponent will lead to an increase in the deficit and Malta will suffer the same fate as Greece.”.
Both leaders have to offer optimism for the future in the next general elections. There is no doubt that it will not be easy for either of them, especially when the state of the economy is such that we are investing more in the payment of interests on loans than on anything else.
It is wrong for any party leader to remain silent while his main challenger criticizes his proposals or his electoral manifesto in an election campaign. As I said, a leader must respond to attacks immediately.
But the voters want a leader who will give them hope for a better future and will focus on the voters’ emotions by discussing corruption and the black dust issue in the south which up to now nobody (not even the local councils) have taken the initiative to conduct private studies in order to prove the source of such health hazard.
In effect I find it odd how the local councils do not take the initiative and finance a study so that the mystery and the inconvenience and health problems that thi s pollution is causing be identified.
Social networking is an innovative tool which, if used wisely, can make or break a politician; it can win or lose you an election.
Others, however, find mobile telephony to have 10 times more reach than the internet, and SMS is the most common medium after telephone calls.
In this scenario, what use remains for the 24 hours of reflection before election day in our electoral laws?


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