Malta’s far-right forces are once again performing poorly and look highly unlikely to make any significant political inroads in the upcoming elections on 25 May, despite issues surrounding migration bubbling under the surface.
The inability to build any momentum makes Malta somewhat unique in Europe’s drastically changing political landscape, as Matteo Salvini’s far-right EU alliance is predicted to make far-reaching inroads into the mainstream.
So far, the best ever performing far-right candidate was Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europa, receiving 6,761 votes in the last MEP election in 2014
As the country’s long-standing voice when it comes to everything right-wing, Lowell has used his eccentricities and sometimes extreme views to remain notorious, yet he still just polling at 1.2% in the latest Malta Today survey. Meanwhile, Alleanza Bidla and Moviment Pattrijoti Maltin are yet to make a whimper on the local political scene.
With the European Elections often presenting fertile ground for fringe parties, Lovin Malta took a look at why Malta has remained a political anomaly and refused to put any of their faith into the far-right.
1. The PN and PL’s tough stances on migration may have made their parties a home for members of the far-right
In the face of ever-worsening polls, PN Leader Adrian Delia has made the issue of migration his pet issue, taking on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over the effect the influx is potentially having on Maltese wages, properties and costs.
Delia has repeatedly rejected any labels of the ‘far-right’, however his stance on protecting Maltese Catholic identity and sustainable population growth is clearly geared at targeting the country’s still socially conservative public.
On the other hand, Muscat, despite his repeated claims of the need for an influx of foreigners to maintain economic growth, has executed an astute balancing act when it comes to the issue.
While his claims that he would rather see foreigners work jobs that would break Maltese backs puzzled many, he has had a tough stance when it comes to irregular migration through his refusal for Malta to simply open its doors to migrant vessels in the Mediterranean.
In a sense, he’s also able to apply a quasi-nationalistic economic policy, using the EU’s constant criticism of his government and the country’s tax regime to stock patriotic sentiment as Maltese critics are labelled ‘traitors’ and foreigners as outsiders who are jealous of Malta’s success.
2. Salvini, Orban and Le Pen are charismatic leaders… something the Maltese far-right is desperately missing
Far-right or nationalistic movements have long benefitted from a strong charismatic leader who is able to translate real problems affecting their communities into simplistic yet concise rhetoric that pushes forward their political agenda.
Lowell, despite his almost comic and charismatic appeal, has alienated Maltese voters through his radical approach to issues on migration and beyond, such as eugenics and defending Adolf Hitler.
In contrast, leading figures such as Salvini, France’s Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s Victor Orban have all been able to water-down what could be considered extreme political thought to digestible ‘sound-bites’ that attract a mainstream voter.
Le Pen, for example, took her own father’s fringe appeal (he lost by 82% of the vote in a presidential election, the biggest gap in France’s history) and transformed it into a real political force, receiving approximately 34% of votes in her run-off against Emmanuel Macron, who was backed by a coalition of left-wing and centrist parties.
However, Azzjoni Nazzjonali, a sort of ‘far-right with suits’ party that emerged during the 2000s, came and went with little note despite being headed by PN’s Josie Muscat and businessman Angelo Xuereb.
3. Malta’s partisan duopoly leaves little room for fringe parties to gain
To give the far-right some credit, other smaller parties are yet to do any better, also making a poor showing in current polls.
Alternattiva Demokratika has never gained an elected seat in the EP or Maltese parliament despite functioning for close to 30 years (Toni Abela and Wenzu Mintoff had left the PL to start AD while being seating MPs); while the revolving doors in the leadership of the Democratic Party has dented any hope of progress after the party’s performance in the 2017 election.
Malta’s parochial tribalism means that despite a person’s political opinion, they are likely to stray from the party they and their families vote for. However, the country’s voting system also means it’s extremely difficult for small parties to gain a foothold beyond local elections. For example, an MEP candidate would need roughly 30,000 votes to get elected.
4. Fringe parties will never flourish in times of economic success
A quick glance around Europe and the rise of nationalistic parties exposes a common trend. Italy, France, Austria and Germany have all allowed austerity measures caused by the financial crisis to affect the disenfranchised and vulnerable in society, allowing fringe parties to make significant ground in both local and supra-national elections.
Even Greece has seen radical left parties take over the mainstream in a coalition within the ruling Syriza party.
Although rising prices and stagnant wages are creating growing social inequality and issues, Malta’s own welfare system and economic growth have meant that the overwhelming majority of people are still able to live their lives in relative comfort.
Muscat has also placed migrants as crucial to economic growth, a sort of ‘necessary evil’ for economic growth that could appeal to those who hold strong anti-migrant views.
Should economic success cease to continue and downfall ensues, it will be easy to see which group will then get the brunt of the blame.