Monday, 6 July 2009

Times: Not just an election
Sunday, 28th June 2009 by Joseph Muscat

The decisions that the Maltese people took on June 6 go beyond the sometimes superficial analysis carried out after normal elections. June 6 was more than 'just' an election. It marked the birth of a movement.

The Maltese have set into motion a process that will change the traditional structure of our political landscape. In contemporary politics it is highly unlikely for a party, any party - on its own - to garner the results we managed on June 6. It is the highest rate of assent to political innovation since Independence and second only to electoral consultations during very exceptional circumstances: the end of a world war.

The only similar precedent is that of the movement for European Union membership - a politically transversal movement that absorbed votes from left, centre and right. A movement that, with the benefit of hindsight, was not really led by a group but rather by an idea. An idea so fundamentally innovative that it is now liquidating the profoundly conservative political party that tried to own it. Many of those who voted for Europe did not do so as a gesture of support for a party but to put an end to traditional political allegiances.

Those who did so are now looking ahead given that there is a broad, solid and unequivocal political consensus that Malta must remain a member of the European Union. Furthermore, people who dreamt of a European Malta are now finding that the incumbent political regime is not delivering.

The lack of results is not only due to institutional and political fatigue. It is mostly due to the fact that the small - and shrinking - group led by the Prime Minister has a conservative mindset. A mindset that prevents it from steering this country into a progressive direction, one that is consonant with the best traditions of European social liberalism.

The fact that Lawrence Gonzi is openly against the introduction of divorce, that he has failed to put in place any legislation to protect the rights of cohabiting partners and their children, that he adopts a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with gay politicians - because he thinks that if someone says he or she is gay then he or she has a problem, is symptomatic of this.

The changes within our society provide fertile ground for the birth of a new movement that seeks to bring together progressives and moderates who believe it is time to move on.
June 6 is not simply about Labour - or about any other party at that. It is about a movement. For the first time, people who never voted Labour teamed up with others who had never voted before and with traditional Labour voters. People who were at the forefront of both the 'Yes' and the 'No' campaigns put the past behind them and united - not secretively, but openly - to show that they believe in this project.

Discontent with the current administration alone could not have bound them together in such a way. It is easier for the disgruntled voter to stay at home. The cohesiveness of the vote was brought about by belief in this movement.

I know there are many voters whose hand quivered as they were going to vote Labour for the first time. I know they decided to go ahead and do it because they know it is time to move on.
To these people, I say that we will not take their vote for granted. To me it is a clear mandate to build the coalition, the progressive movement we know we need.

The doors are wide open to all those who voted otherwise, including those who again chose the PN and also those who stayed at home. Our goal will be to show that this is really a new way of doing things. This is an exciting new project that will change those things we are all fed up with.
I know we will not convince everyone come the next general election. But, as I told some die-hard Nationalist friends some time ago, I want them to feel confident that Labour and the progressive movement will deliver the goods as they carry on with their lives.

Ambitious? Preposterous? Dreamer?

Could well be. But this is what my generation is all about. When we have a dream in which we believe, we cry it out loud and work hard to achieve it. We will not shy from saying what we think and what we believe. Even if it might cost us kudos with our traditional supporters. Even if it might cost us votes.

June 6 wasn't just a protest vote. It certainly wasn't a fluke. It wasn't just an election. It was the beginning of something new.

Dr Muscat is leader of the Labour Party.

[Click at the hyperlink at the top to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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