Sociologist from Malta

Monday, June 02, 2014

Michael Briguglio interviewed on EP elections and small parties by The Malta Independent on Sunday

by Kevin Schembri Orland

Alternattiva Demokratika lacked a slogan and a burst of energy in the last MEP elections, ex-AD Chairperson and sociologist Michael Briguglio told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

AD’s message was too safe and moderate, he argued. “They lacked a catchy slogan and energy. They should have placed themselves further to the left of the political spectrum, rather than settling in-between the two major parties. That being said, green parties across Europe face this problem. I’m not saying AD was wrong in their choice of political placement; however I believe that their moderate strategy didn’t quite work out.”

Dr Briguglio said that a void exists to the left of the spectrum and “AD tried to fill this void under my leadership.” He believes that AD should have opened its doors further to newcomers following the 2013 general election. “They should have pushed back their general meeting rather than having it so soon after their defeat. I understand why they held it then and there; it was a sign to the Maltese people that AD is still active and will continue to operate”.

“Instead of making quick decisions on party leadership and its role, the party should relax and allow time for new people to consider whether or not they are interested in joining the cause,” he added.

Asked whether or not the number of votes gained by small parties in this election was significant, Dr Briguglio declared that in order for a party to be considered as having gained a significant number of votes, it would either need to be elected to the European Parliament, or achieve a result similar to that AD had in the 2004 MEP elections, where they received nine per cent of the vote.

“A general election in Malta is, for some voters, a life or death situation. European elections are generally calm, as people do not have to decide between one party and another,” he said

Dr Briguglio believes that votes transferred from Imperium Europa (IE) to AD represent a protest vote, as there are no ideological ties between the two parties. Although both parties want to tackle immigration, AD through the revision of ‘Dublin 2 Regulation’ and IE through other means, Dr Briguglio said the PL and PN also want to tackle the issue. In reality, the European Parliament can only respond to proposals by the European Commission and thus has limited power when it comes to tackling migration, he said. “The real power lies with the Council of Ministers. The reason this issue has come to a standstill in Europe is because this Council cannot agree on a common solution.”

According to the Dublin Regulation, the country where asylum seekers land is responsible for dealing with their application, thereby putting excessive pressure on the southern EU states.

“This is not to say that small party supporters didn’t vote for small parties on ideological grounds. I believe that a number of small party voters voted according to their preference, be it green or far-right,” he explained.

Discussing voter trends and statistics, Dr Briguglio described the Maltese electorate as being satisfied with a two-party parliament, even though Malta’s electoral system could support a third party in Parliament, he said. “This already works at local council level.” This is not to say that the Maltese public is close-minded, he explained, keeping in mind that Malta has just elected four female MEPs and passed the divorce referendum a few years ago. “Currently, they are happy with a two-party parliament. On the other hand, the possibility of sudden change exists and the election of a third party could really take place,” he added.

Dr Briguglio argued that although IE increased the number of votes acquired significantly, this still represents a small number of votes. “We’re speaking about 7,000 votes. Although this is worrying, in real terms, it’s still a relatively small number. It’s not the same situation which is apparent in France, where the far-right got around 25 per cent of votes.” The sociologist emphasised that small parties, together, achieved around seven per cent of votes in the Maltese EU elections. “If it had been a single small party who received seven per cent then yes, it would represent the significant rise of a third party; however this seven per cent was divided between a number of them. This is a disappointing result for small parties on the whole, as in other EU countries small parties thrive in EU elections.”

Dr Briguglio mentioned the number of competent female candidates who took part in this European election but remains concerned about inequality. “Just because we have four female MEPs does not mean we have achieved gender equality. There are still a number of areas, such as at places of work, where inequality exists. In addition, inequality exists between different social classes here,” Dr Briguglio said. “No political party spoke about class equality issues at work and in education in this election, and I’m fairly disappointed about this.”

With regard to votes gained by female candidates, Dr Briguglio does not believe that this is an indication or voting trend which sees voters casting their ballots purely based on gender. “If this was the case, we’d see a lot more female candidates elected to Parliament. Any kind of decisive statement on this issue would be purely speculative.”

When asked if he feels a trend has emerged indicating which major political party supporters tend to use a protest vote, Dr Briguglio doesn’t believe one exists. “One important thing to mention, however, is the number of people who failed to turn up and vote in these elections. There are many reasons, but I would like to say that those who turned up would like to have their names on record as not having voted. Then again this is purely speculative.”

The principle conclusion revealed in these elections is Labour’s solidifying victory, keeping roughly the same lead over the PN since the general election in 2013, he said.

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