Monday, 8 June 2009

MaltaToday: A personal triumph for Joseph Muscat / The last nail in the coffin for Alternattiva?

MaltaToday: A Personal Triumph for Joseph Muscat

Last year’s defeat can be squarely blamed on Alfred Sant, but yesterday’s victory was a personal triumph for Joseph Muscat’s Labour-lite brand, JAMES DEBONO says

In the space of a year Joseph Muscat has pushed all the right political buttons and put Labour ahead by 15 percentage points with its definitive electoral swing that signalled a change in the popular mood.
Only a year ago during Labour’s internal leadership contest Nationalists pundits had written off Muscat as a continuation of Sant’s legacy, arguing that by dumping George Abela, Labour would remain unelectable.
But Muscat has not only managed to inspire the Labour core vote. He has managed to make inroads among floating voters and former Nationalist voters. Unlike Sant, Muscat does not inspire fear or uncertainty in an electorate suffering from fatigue after two decades of Nationalist rule.
And unlike Sant, despite his very young age he has proved himself as an astute leader who does not provide his adversaries with embarrassing soundbites such as Sant’s promise to “reopen the EU package”.
Nationalist pundits tried to blame their colossal defeat on the higher rates of abstention in Nationalist districts. But this is only part of the truth. MaltaToday surveys had predicted that 4.8% of Nationalist voters in 2008 would vote Labour this time around.
And more significantly a survey held in January showed Labour leader Joseph Muscat enjoying a higher trust rating than Lawrence Gonzi. Significantly 10% of respondents who claimed to have voted PN in the last election now trusted Muscat more than Gonzi.
Ironically despite Labour’s triumph, Malta has inched towards the right in these elections. On immigration Labour was in synch with the popular mood, but it is has drifted to the positions of the hard right. This was partly compensated by a more progressive stand on gay rights and divorce.
The PN’s moral conservatism was definitely a turn-off for many middle of the road liberal voters. You could say that Labour is one of the few members of the Party of European Socialists to win – and largely because of voters’ fatigue with the PN.
Ultimately Muscat’s vision on economic and environmental matters remains obscure. 
For the moment Muscat has built a coalition of the disgruntled kept together by his charisma and tact. In four years’ time, voters will ask questions on how Muscat will govern the country. Now he has turn Labour into a government-in-waiting.


MaltaToday: The last nail in the coffin for Alternattiva?

Five years ago, Alternattiva Demokratika appealed to voters to vote “for country, not for party” and to elect Arnold Cassola to the European Parliament. 
Their mainstream platform exploited widespread sympathy from Nationalist voters for its contribution to persuade voters to accept EU membership, and Arnold Cassola was rewarded by the vote of a tenth of the electorate.
Five years later they called people to “think big and vote Green”, but AD has been rewarded by just one in every 50 voters. What has gone wrong?
It seems some people were turned off by Cassola’s takeover of AD and contesting these elections after failing to get re-elected in the Italian parliament, his former seat of office when he was elected on Romano Prodi’s list of Italian expats.
And while in 2004 AD was upbeat following its historical role in securing EU membership, AD was already demoralised by last year’s miserable 1.3% score.
The writing was already on the wall in March 2008 when AD’s attempt to replicate its 2004 result by trying to lure in the moderate Nationalist vote, and hinting at a possible coalition vote, failed miserably.
And while in 2004 the PN tried to vanquish AD’s chances by launching a frontal attack on AD using the old abortion card, this time around the PN decided to ignore AD completely.
Chinese torture proved far more an effective strategy for the PN than a frontal attack that would have ultimately made the greens more visible and even a viable option for disgruntled voters.
But a more fundamental reason for yesterday’s failure could be that on many issues, AD found itself running with hares while chasing with the hounds. Arnold Cassola was rational and moderate in all the debates, but still he failed to leave an impression on the popular imagination.
Undecided on whether to appeal for the moderate or the radical vote, on civil liberties AD did not come across as any more progressive than Labour, which this time appealed directly to the gay vote.
Ironically by being the only party to take a principled, albeit moderate, stand on immigration, AD – unlike Labour – was definitely not in synch with the popular mood. And the fact that AD ended up running neck to neck with Norman Lowell for third place makes defeat a bitter pill to swallow.
AD’s miserable showing in these elections raises the question on whether the 20-year-old party has a future. If AD fails to elect any councillor in next week’s election, the party seems destined to extinction.

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