The latest political survey published by MaltaToday makes for some sobering reading for the nation’s third parties. Imperium Europa, a party led by a septuagenerian who openly advocates Nazism and who believes only stupid Maltese women are having babies, is more popular than both Alternattiva Demokratika and Partit Demokratiku.
It’s certainly no easy task for a third party to make a mark in Malta, an island with a political landscape completely dominated by the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party. However, the rise of alternative political movements across Europe shows it certainly isn’t impossible either… which means the failures of Maltese third parties are largely of their own doing.
This is how they can form a new movement that is capable of actually worrying the powers-that-be.
1. Group up and pool resources
The ‘alternative’ political movement in Malta is completely splintered into groups which often end up fighting the same battles on different fronts, diminishing each other’s power in the process. AD and PD, as well as pressure groups like Moviment Graffitti, Occupy Justice, Repubblika and a myriad of environmental, social and human rights NGOs and activists all want an end to the PL-PN duopoly, but disagree on how to get there.
If they truly want to end the duopoly, then they must realise that politics is the art of the possible, that compromises must be made from all sides, and that they must gather around a table to map out the way forward.
2. Decide what they stand for
This is an absolutely crucial step that, unfortunately, often goes unnoticed.
The new movement’s aims must be clear, concise, inspiring and visibly different to those advocated by PL and PN, free of vague buzzwords and rich in tangible policies. Unlike the large parties, the new movement won’t be hampered by commitments to donors and constituents or too burdened by the shadows of its past, and it should use this to its advantage.
3. Appoint a charismatic leader and a strong team
Policies and ideologies are important, but at the end of the day they won’t mean much if the new movement isn’t able to communicate them to the people.
The leader must be charismatic, but the movement cannot be an extension of its leader, or it will risk collapse as soon as s/he jumps ship. Once the roles are established and the statute drawn up, an outreach programme must begin immediately.
4. Sort out the financial situation
Sooner or later, the issue of party financing will arise, and it is best to nip it in the bud.
Will the movement accept large donations, or only small ones from citizens? Will it abide by the spirit of the party financing law, or try and use loopholes to circumvent it? Transparency will be key here.
5. Put egos aside for the greater good
At this point, it’s inevitable that clashes would have taken place within the movement.
It will be impossible to find a leader or a team who everyone agrees with and disputes will undoubtedly arise over what direction the movement will take. While internal criticism is healthy for a political movement, all people involved must ultimately realise that they are mere cogs in the machine and that they should put their differences aside for the greater good. If egos are allowed to take over, the movement will splinter and it will be back to square one.
6. Organise a strong ground game and target local councils
While the movement must be ambitious, it must also be realistic and realise that it will take time to supersede the two large parties which after all are ingrained in Maltese culture and boast significant resources.
Instead of instantly aiming to elect MPs and MEPs, it should first focus on electing a number of local councillors through an intensive ground game that involves meeting constituents face-to-face and explaining why exactly they should trust them with their votes.
7. Develop a formidable media presence
Electing a number of councillors will instantly lend credibility to the movement and it must use this wisely to ensure people are talking about them on a national level.
They will be at a disadvantage as PL and PN both have their own media platforms, but they must utilise various media platforms to their advantage. Instead of demanding coverage and kicking up a fuss when they don’t get it, they must make sure they are talking about issues that will leave the media no choice but to give them publicity.
8. Remember that it’s a long game
Success won’t happen overnight and there will be several obstacles along the way.
Some people will leave the movement and trash it on Facebook, the large parties will poach some of its policies, critical narratives will be formed about it and serious questions will be asked. The people involved must be resilient, headstrong and cognisant of the fact that this cannot be anything other than a long-term project.
Cover photo: Left: PD leader Godfrey Farrugia, Centre: Imperium Europa leader Norman Lowell, Right: AD leader Carmel Cacopardo and MEP candidate Mina Tolu