The Egrant issue hit the headlines. The polls were showing that Labour was clearly on top. Joseph Muscat called a snap election. And Labour decimated Forza Nazzjonali.
Indeed, the public scientific surveys of Malta Today, It-Torca, The Sunday Times of Malta, The Malta Independent and Xarabank all showed clear trends, even though some voters were shifting allegiances.
That one survey was more precise than another is mere coincidence. All had reliable research methods.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Labour’s winning strategy was how it turned a liability into an asset.
Egrant motivated Muscat to go to the polls, and it was evident that this was done to avoid political damage. But eventually, the Labour narrative of ‘where’s the proof’ became stronger and stronger.
Whereas Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s involvement in Panama Papers was crystal clear, the ownership of Egrant was subject to debate. Truth? Alternative facts? That is really beside the point.
But surely, Egrant alone cannot explain a 35,000-vote difference.
One major reason why Labour was triumphant is that its leadership was more capable of reading the concerns of different groups in society. These include those who are not trapped in media bubbles and those who are looked down upon and ignored by elitists.
Surely, one important aspect of this strategy was Labour’s exploitation of amoral familism, or the prioritising of immediate interests through patronage over the common good and the longer term.
Hence, whereas Labour’s rural policy was criticised by environmentalists for encouraging development in such areas, small farmers saw this as a boon for their family investment. Whereas the general lack of enforcement in localities was criticized by civilly-minded residents, this was seen as an opportunity for many to make a quick buck.
In the election run-up, Labour managed to micro-target scores of disappointed and non-Labour voters through promotions, permits and so forth.
But again, I don’t think that amoral familism alone can explain Labour’s massive victory. Muscat’s government was a government that delivered in various areas.
This included civil liberties, welfare-to-work social policies, doing away with heavy fuel oil, and achieving a surplus. The economy was performing well for big and small businesses and unemployment was low.
Muscat’s charisma and Southern European machismo was also evidently more attractive than Simon Busuttil’s soft-spokenness.
So, how did the PN achieve such a terrible result?
The PN’s media campaign was very well structured. But Maltese society and media bubbles are not the same thing. Very often, the social media ends up being made up of echo chambers of like-minded people speaking to themselves.
As Robert Arrigo put it, the PN was not street-wise enough.
Corruption ‘protagonists’ and Forza Nazzjonali supporters constantly hit the headlines.
But, clearly there were a good number of concerned Labour voters who trusted Muscat’s package more than that of Busuttil.
They probably now expect Muscat to stay true to his word on his promises regarding governance and accountability.
I suggest that the PN calmly takes its time to choose a new leader, possibly even longer than the September appointment.
In the meantime it can appoint a caretaker interim leadership to manage things. Labour did this with Charles Mangion last time around.
The small parties had mixed fortunes.
Alternattiva Demokratika stood on its own feet but failed miserably. Its puritan discourse against the rest of Malta was too sectarian. Subsequently it lost half its vote and is now no longer Malta’s third party.
On the other hand, Partit Demokratiku’s coalition with the PN proved to be a winner, resulting in the first third party candidate in parliament since 1962.
Marlene Farrugia was a rainbow in the dark in the erstwhile disappointing result of Forza Nazzjonali. Personally, I am proud to have set the ball rolling on this, when I suggested such coalitions in an article in this newspaper in 2015.
Consequently, PD took the plunge and was vindicated. Perhaps it can now act similarly to the CDU/CSU coalition in Germany, being a loyal yet autonomous partner.
Maybe PD can also affirm its autonomy by joining the European Liberals and fielding its own candidates in upcoming local elections while being in coalition in European and general elections.