Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Times: One small party celebrates as others put on brave face

Tuesday, 9th June 2009 by Christian Peregin and Waylon Johnston

Norman Lowell, leader of the far-right Imperium Europa that saw its standing in the European Parliament election grow, is inviting other rightists to join his new party, which he wants to call Viva Malta.

"Some of our ideas will seem left-wing," he warned, giving the environment as an example. But the new party would present a new right-wing ideology.

Speaking in front of the Great Siege Monument, Valletta, he opened the invitation to Azzjoni Nazzjonali and even Nationalist and Labour party people who were ready to take the plunge.

"The votes we won were not a protest vote. This was an ideological vote from people who know what the issue facing the country is. People did not vote for us to spite somebody else," Mr Lowell said. He said his party had imposed its ideas on the major parties and had as a result won the most important battle of all - the battle of ideas.

"We have more than doubled our support and we will now redouble our efforts to defend this country," he added.

While support for Mr Lowell more than doubled - from 1,603 to 3,559 - the small parties failed to obtain more than five per cent of the collective vote, which raised the question of whether they have a future.

Azzjoni Nazzjonali leader Josie Muscat believes there is still space, considering that 20 per cent of the population still feel unrepresented by the big parties and did not vote.

"Change does not come overnight. We are not expecting miracles," he said, while looking forward to the general election.

Dr Muscat, who raked up almost 1,600 first count votes, said he would not be resigning from the party's leadership and turned down Mr Lowell's invitation to join forces.

"No, forget it! We are not that extreme," Dr Muscat said, referring to Mr Lowell's policies on immigration.

Mr Lowell's showing was raised by his lawyer Emmy Bezzina, who runs the Alpha Liberal Party.

He said his client made an "enormous impact" that had to be analysed in terms of a growing far-right culture. This stemmed from the fact that Malta had a weakening economy.

Dr Bezzina said illegal immigrants were becoming the scapegoats for those facing tough times who in turn protested by voting for Mr Lowell. Alternattiva Demokratika, on the other hand, had been shown to be outdated, not because of its leader Arnold Cassola but because its time was up.

Dr Bezzina, who contested the election independently but did not do any campaigning since he was sitting for "tough exams", only managed 118 first count votes.

He said if Labour were open to discussing issues such as abortion and the Church's position in society, he would be more willing to join the party's ranks. If not, he would continue to militate as a voice for liberals, discussing issues bigger parties were ashamed to touch.

Meanwhile, Alleanza Liberali candidate John Zammit, who beat his liberal rival Emmy Bezzina by tallying 189 votes, said he was happy to express himself and raise issues like divorce, abortion, gay rights and euthanasia during this campaign.

He was determined not to go back to the Labour fold, although he met party leader Joseph Muscat in December and was urged to rejoin the party's ranks, he said.

"Labour is not liberal enough. I prefer to work on my own."

Libertas candidate Mary Gauci, who garnered 298 votes after a campaign focused against the EU's Lisbon Treaty, said she would not be resigning but her party would be discussing its future.

She said many complained about the two big parties but when push came to shove they still voted for them.

"I'm not going to say if there is space for smaller parties in the system we have but there is definitely need for them," she said.

Meanwhile, Alternattiva Dem-okratika, which suffered its greatest electoral defeat in its 20-year history, said it had to do some soul-searching and its leader would be stepping down after his mandate expires in October.

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