With a few weeks to go until the European Parliament and local council elections, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has been repeatedly insisting that he is the underdog.
Some have warned he is only trying to downplay expectations and not allow his supporters to fall into a smug sense of complacency, but what if he’s actually correct?
Here are seven reasons why Muscat is in fact the underdog. Like, seriously. Promise.
1. A survey showed he could win by over 100,000 votes
Results from a survey conducted by Lovin Malta last month
Surveys have consistently shown that Labour is in for a historic victory next month, with the PL predicted to win anything between 50,000 and 100,000 votes more than the PN, figures that Malta has never witnessed since Independence.
While the PL has managed to retain a stunning majority of its voters, the PN is struggling to convince its own voters to stick with them, let along convince PL voters. At this rate, the PN would probably kill to lose this month’s election by 36,000 votes as it had the last two general elections.
2. He enjoys the power of incumbency
This is not a PL advert but is funded through public funds
Make no mistake about it; being a Prime Minister during an election campaign makes a huge difference.
It helps that Malta has once again registered an economic surplus and that the IIP fund for national projects means he has a massive war chest at his disposal.
3. His party is in the black while PN is heavily in debt
The Labour Party also has a healthy dose of funds at its disposal and closed the last financial year with a positive balance of €962,064.
While the Nationalist Party’s exact financial position is unknown, it has been heavily in debt, with the most recent report from 2017 placing the estimated debt at €25 million. And even though it takes more than funding to win an election, it certainly makes a massive difference in terms of getting your message across.
4. He is miles ahead when it comes to local councils
The gap between the PL and the PN when it comes to the local council election campaign cannot be stressed enough.
The PL is fielding 398 candidates, around 100 more than the PN, which failed to find enough candidates to win a third of Malta’s councils. Meanwhile, Muscat will publish an individualised manifesto for every single local council, allowing people to see exactly how the PL plans to improve their hometown, emulating a strategy that the Nationalist Party has used in previous elections.
5. He has a very compelling narrative
The way Muscat has seemingly managed to cover all the bases will make for some interesting political analyses in the future. His campaign appeals to people’s nationalistic sentiments by portraying PN MEPs who criticise the government in EU institutions as traitors and critical foreigners as being jealous of the country’s success.
However, unlike other European nationalistic movements, the Prime Minister isn’t portraying migrants as the enemy, but is openly stating his belief that Malta’s future is that of a cosmopolitan society.
The Labour Party’s campaign is once again extremely savvy, both in terms of image (I mean, an emoji on a billboard…) and of substance. From road upgrades to the Gozo tunnel and a planned metro, Muscat is pushing some of the most ambitious infrastructural projects that Malta has ever seen.
Yet he also seems to be increasingly conscious of the country’s serious environmental problems, revising the controversial fuel station policy, announcing the island’s first segregated bi-directional cycle track, and confirming plans to clamp down on street littering, as well as teasing plans for the “largest open space in Malta’s history”.
6. The Opposition is struggling to convince people to vote for them
You’re only as strong as your enemy, and the Nationalist Party is hardly at its peak right now. While the party is flagging some serious problems, such as population growth, low wages and a lack of long-term planning, the criticism is still very skin-deep, more buzzwords than actual policies.
Moreover, it was only a few months ago that the PN found itself in the midst of its second ugly civil war in the space of a year, complete with private messages and videos finding their way to social media and MPs privately urging him to resign. While the situation has since calmed down, this could well be just the calm before the storm and Delia could face those long knives again should he lose spectacularly next month.
7. The third parties are not gaining any ground
Photo: Partit Demokratiku
The woes of the Nationalist Party have not resulted in successes for the small parties or independent candidates, who have barely even managed to register in the surveys. As is the bane of Maltese small parties, they have been beset by infighting, with the Alternattiva Demokratika’s former leader and Moviment Patrijotti Maltin’s former deputy leader both quitting their respective parties to run as an independent. Meanwhile, the Partit Demokratiku’s current deputy leader is also running as an independent, but because of an internal slip-up.
Be it policies, personalities or something else, they have clearly not discovered the formula to inspire the public.
BONUS: His chief of staff is under criminal investigation, but the last time that happened, he actually increased votes
His chief of staff Keith Schembri, as well as Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, will be investigated by the police for corruption and money laundering after the courts ruled that evidence stemming from the Panama Papers should be passed on to an ongoing magisterial inquiry.
However, Muscat should have no reason to fear. Two magisterial inquiries were launched against Schembri in the run-up to the 2017 general election but this had no bearing on the election result. In fact, the PL managed to increase its majority over the PN while Mizzi was re-elected to Parliament with more votes than he had won in the previous election.
The path to victory truly couldn’t be clearer…