Polls are becoming notoriously difficult to read but they do give us some clues. Saturday’s election, according to declared voters, should end in favour of Labour. In a big way too, just not as big as in 2013. We’re probably talking a vote difference of between 12,000-18,000 votes.
But there are also enough undeclared voters to sway the result to either side. And that all depends on whether they will drop evenly or in a massively one-sided way. But instead of guessing how the pendulum will swing, let’s analyse the four most interesting options and see what each outcome would mean for Malta and its political class.
1. Labour wins by a massive margin (around 36,000 vote difference or higher)
To most people this is immediately implausible because Labour definitely lost votes since its huge victory in 2013. There’s already people like Marlene and Godfrey Farrugia, just to give two high profile examples. But this interpretation forgets one key factor. Labour kept winning people over, long after the 36,000 result of 2013. Having finally been given the chance to govern, Labour showed off what it could do, and most people saw that.
In fact, given Joseph Muscat called a snap election one year before its time, it’s likely that polls were giving him an extra-strong lead around a month ago. Otherwise, why risk it? He had probably been waiting for the chance to call to an election at peak-polling power. Some recent comments from Labour exponents indicate that the lead was at one point in the legislature closer to a 40,000-50,000 margin.
The interesting thing about another historic landslide victory for Labour, is that would be a huge setback for the Nationalist Party. Simon Busuttil would have to resign and a new leader would have to find a way of building a narrative that goes way beyond the corruption argument. The Maltese media establishment would also be rocked because it would have been reflecting a very different sentiment from that of the general public. It would also mean that most undeclared voters might have been embarrassed to say they were voting Labour because of the toxic discourse that had taken over the country. But fundamentally, they were happy with the way things were going.
The allegations against Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi won’t disappear, but it will be increasingly difficult for any major action to be taken against them. Even when Muscat gets grilled by MEPs in Strasbourg, he will at least be able to face them with a strong mandate from his country. That would make things very thorny for the MEPs.
Tl;dr version: Joseph Muscat becomes invincible, Simon Busuttil will have to resign
2. Labour loses a large chunk on its majority but still wins (e.g. 10,000-20,000)
Most pollsters believe this is the most likely outcome. That’s because the declared numbers skew strongly towards Labour and the undeclared ones could very easily skew in the same way, as happened last time around.
With this result, PN could claim it gained some momentum, Labour would be shaken but not stirred, and things will probably continue as they are until the magistrate’s inquiry is published and the corruption issue gets settled.
But it all depends on the margin. If for example Labour wins by 25,000, this would still be the second biggest landslide victory in history. But Labour would have also lost an 11,000 vote difference – which is still pretty high by normal standards. Similarly, if Labour wins by a still respectable 10,000 difference, the idea that Labour lost 26,000 votes would be very significant.
This is where Simon Busuttil’s survival becomes questionable. What size of loss could be acceptable to his team and be labelled “good enough”? And if they keep him, what happens if the magisterial inquiry proves Egrant is a lie? Will he be pressured to resign then?
Tl;dr version: Joseph Muscat gets a reality check, Simon Busuttil will have to fight for survival
3. A close shave (a difference of less than 5,000 votes each way)
Most hopeful Nationalists think this is the likeliest possibility. It would certainly benefit them either way the pendulum swings. That’s because a small Labour victory would render Joseph Muscat extremely weak. It would be a poisoned chalice because it would add pressure on his parliamentary group and the Labour core to take action fast before another election crops up.
On the other hand, if PN wins, even by the smallest of victories, Muscat has said he would pack up and leave. So unless he changes his mind and pulls a ‘partnership won’ fiasco, all attention would shift onto Prime Minister Simon Busuttil who would emerge an unlikely hero. His honeymoon will end the second a magisterial inquiry finds he was deceptive at some point throughout the campaign.
This result would also demonstrate that the switchers which Labour won over in 2013 were quick to dissipate. The nation will return to its polarised ways, split at the middle once again, which would mean that most of the switchers last time round were really just voting for change rather than a strong belief in Muscat or his party.
Tl;dr version: Joseph Muscat fights for survival or resigns, Simon Busuttil credited with good momentum
4. A sizeable victory for the PN (a difference of 10,000+)
This would confirm more than ever that the Maltese electorate is intolerant to corruption and is prepared to keep voting on this basis until it gets a clean government.
This is believed by most to be very unlikely because most polls don’t really show any trends to support it. While being an absolute vote of no confidence in Muscat, it would also tell us something interesting about the current relationship Malta has with pollsters. It would mean that many respondents to political surveys were for whatever reason afraid or uncomfortable to declare their intentions, but most of them were planning to vote PN. This could demonstrate an indication of fear or paranoia from voters and would warrant a more in-depth analysis.
But what does sizeable even mean? Again, this would be up to the respective parties to determine and spin their own theories. However, at this point it might be interesting to know what previous victories looked like throughout the past 30 years.
1987: 4,785 for PN
1992: 13,021 for PN
1996: 7,633 for Labour
1998: 12,817 for PN
2003: 12,080 for PN
2008: 1,580 for PN
2013: 35,107 for Labour
The question everybody will ask in the case of a PN victory is: What happens to allegations facing Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi? Well, that would all depend on the magisterial inquiry but it’s safe to say the country won’t let them just sail off into the distance.
Obviously, Simon Busuttil would be crowned an absolute hero, having managed to pull off the impossible in just four years. But he’ll be expected to deliver pretty quickly on fixing Malta’s institutions in the most unifying way possible.
Tl,dr version: Joseph Muscat disappears, Simon Busuttil crowned a hero
BONUS: What about the coalition?
One novelty in this election is the presence of a coalition. Partit Demokratiku has candidates under the Nationalist Party ticket. A #1 vote for a PD candidate would still be counted within the PN umbrella of votes, but it would also go down as a vote for a PD candidate.
It would be interesting to see if any PD candidates get elected. If they do, then the coalition’s presence will be represented in Parliament. If not, they would probably demand some level of involvement anyway – although that would depend on whether PN wins.
Another interesting thing to look at would be PD’s global national vote and whether it would be deserving of representation even if no candidates get elected. If the PD’s global national vote is impressive, it would be a strong sign to the PN that the public is still hesitant to trust it. It would also confirm that this election was lost by the government, not won by the opposition.