Politics is supposed to be an art of service. In Malta, it is often an act of conflict, by one tribe against another. That is why third party politics in Malta is a noble ambition of public service, the objective of which is to free people from mental chains, bring them together and empower them.
For many who dream that politics can and should be better, third party politics is like a guilty secret tucked away in one’s heart. Very few people have had the courage to declare openly that they would vote for a third party. To make such a confession is to invite aggression in our deeply tribalistic society. It comes across as a betrayal of one’s family and social circle, deeply embedded in either the Red or Blue sphere.
In Malta, politics is a family tradition, after all. It is a badge of identity. Every family has their story or reason for voting one way or the other, almost like a legend that is passed down. However, third party politics today has a chance to be more than just a dream of liberation from those who have hijacked public life and abused the trust of our families.
Third party politics has been like the seed of a mighty carob tree that has taken many years to grow but has started to break through the concrete. I am going to explain how and why change is now possible, and how you can actually make a difference.
First of all, if you are considering voting for a third party, you need to realise that you are not alone. This has been an unfolding process for many years, headed in a certain direction. More people around you than one would think, want to see the system changed. Many people express the desire for a third party to succeed in Maltese politics, but they simply do not think it is possible, and therefore do not lift a finger to bring it about.
They either do not vote at all, or they go with the flow and vote with their social circle. They suppress their true desire, and may not even vote based on their principle at all. They hide their doubts and aspirations so they may blend in. What is sad is that sometimes even young people get so caught up in tribal PLPN politics that they do not see the wood for the trees.
Recently Lovin Malta published an article by a wonderful young activist, singing the praises of a candidate for the PN leadership, without discussing a single policy issue.
It was the usual rhetoric designed to promote a cult of personality at any cost. This is surprising when one considers the young activist’s progressive and forward-looking ideals which seem to match those of the third party. We are open-minded and not restricted by traditional and established thought. Instead, we take what is valuable from the past, instead of being limited by it.
Young people need to find the courage to break away from their family pressures and echo chamber, and stand up for what they truly believe. We will keep working to give them that courage to do so, like myself and others before them.
The numbers for a breakthrough are actually there. The number of people refusing to answer telephone surveys or answering ‘I don’t know’ also point to people refusing to be drawn into the tribal PLPN game. There have been instances where both AD and PD have done rather well in the suffocating political scenario. In 2004, Malta came very close to electing an MEP from Alternattiva Demokratika with over 22,938 first count votes.
Alternattiva Demokratika reached 29,013 votes before being eliminated. Back then, Malta only had 5 MEP seats; if it had 6, as it does now, Alternattiva Demokratika would have been elected to the European Parliament, and it would have set a chain reaction which would have broken the two-party system.
In 2017, Partit Demokratiku made history by electing two MPs. Although this was done as part of a coalition, it showed that when people are provided with a situation where they feel like their vote actually counts, then they will, in fact, opt for a different party. People actually want to have a choice, and if they could freely choose to change things, they would do so. What we third-party political activists need to do is show them that the choice exists and that the tree is growing.
It is not easy but we will get there. Our country has suffered a lot in the past years due to partisanship. The effects can be seen through what has happened to Malta’s reputation, and all the fighting and unrest between our citizens. This has created a climate of fear, and there are many people who vote against a party, rather than in favour of one.
For example, many people vote simply to try and keep one of the two traditional parties out of power, not because they really agree with the one they are voting for. It is a question of voting for what one sees as the lesser evil.
Therefore, a third party must inspire confidence in people that it can truly protect them and promote their values. It cannot just be a protest vote. We must get the message across that voting for something, for principles and for a vision strengthens democracy and is more satisfying than just going along with the flow.
I am confident that the situation in the country is slowly but surely changing. Younger people have a more open mind and are more ready to challenge the false narratives and propaganda of the past and present.
Amongst all these pressures, the two major parties have shown over and over again that they don’t really care about the people of this country, and that they are merely vehicles for selfish, destructive people clinging on to power at all costs and there is little appetite for people to try something new when they are afraid, especially when third parties have a track record of falling short. If Alternattiva Demokratika did really well in 2004, then each time it gained fewer votes is a signal to the electorate to stop trying. There is a self-defeating trend in place of history reinforcing itself.
However, the past decades have taught the third party movement a lot of valuable lessons, and a lot of new people have become involved as well. I acknowledge the problem and things do not have to be a repetition of the past. It is time for bold new strategies. In the past, there was no social media, either, and therefore third parties hardly had any way to get their message across in a media landscape totally dominated by Red or Blue.
The situation in the country is therefore changing as well. Younger people have a more open mind and are more ready to challenge the false narratives and propaganda of the past and present.
Emerging challengers need to step up their game. We need a fresh start as a movement, which is why the merger of Partit Demokratiku and Alternattiva Demokratika is the perfect opportunity to do things right this time. The two major parties have shown over and over again that they don’t really care about the people of this country, and that they are merely vehicles for selfish, destructive people clinging on to power at all costs. Good people trying to change things from the inside often find themselves frustrated, because it is the system itself that is sick.
These good people are the ones we will work with to fix things, once the electorate gives us a strong negotiating position. We will achieve this position by getting a hopeful message out there, backed by a strategy that inspires confidence and delivers through consistency and person to person contact, then we can set in motion a positive trend, where over time, the third party becomes more than just the third party. It becomes the logical choice, not just an alternative.
If you want to see this change happen, we all need to do our part. During the past few years, a lot of people across generations have thanked us for our “courage”, applauded us, and then have sat back to criticise the way things are from the comfort of their homes. It is important to have flaws pointed out, even when people may have solutions to offer, but for the country to change people need to stand up to be counted. It is time to get active and to get busy.
It is time to be proud to be different – to hold your ground in a social circle that thinks differently and to bring them onboard. It is time for you to have courage as well. If every person who wants third party politics to transform convinces one other person of the vision, then we set in motion a chain reaction. It is indeed all about strategy, inspiration, conviction and vision. From here on out, we are going to convince you to get on board, and then the rest is not just up to you – it is up to us because we are going to be a team. Together we are a domino effect – a wave of change.
Rachelle Deguara is co-chairperson Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagħ – Green Youth
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