Third Parties, Do Better
Former CEO of Lovin Malta Chris Peregin joined the ranks of the Nationalist Party this week. Why?
I ask the question due to the sharp contrast between the core values of the two. On the one hand, we find the progressive Peregin, while on the other we have the fundamentally conservative PN. Why did Peregin join a party that doesn’t agree with his stance on party media? Why did he join a party that isn’t able to take a strong stand on issues like cannabis and abortion? Why didn’t he instead join a third party?
It could be that Chris Peregin felt that he could only enact the changes he wanted to see from the inside, which, if true, makes the question I asked earlier even more pertinent.
“As much as I support the efforts of the smaller parties, we need to be honest in our assessment and realise that it is only the PN that has a fighting chance to grow into an alternative government, since it already enjoys 30% of the country’s support.” - Chris Peregin reasoned in an article published upon his departure from Lovin Malta.
Peregin, depicting himself as a pragmatist rather than a party loyalist, chose the PN because realistically, any attempt to impact change through third parties in Malta would be futile.
I am critical of third parties and their appraisal on why they have failed to make inroads with voters. A valid and focal concern of third parties is the fact that both major political parties in Malta have a vested interest in suppressing their growth, an example of this being the proposed Equality bill regarding gender quotas in the Maltese parliament. Their gripe is that this would only be applicable if parliamentarians from no more than two parties were present. While I must agree, the complete lack of agency in their reasoning baffles me.
A key problem lies in the simple fact that they cannot recognise their incompetence both internally and in practice, instead choosing to blame their struggles on the major parties alone. Third parties don’t get voted into Parliament because people simply don’t vote for them. Their greatest setback is themselves. More specifically it is their inability to accept Maltese politics for what it is, a politics based on culture and not on ideology.
This misunderstanding is not exclusive to third parties in Malta, PN also falling victim in 2017 when then-leader Simon Busuttil adopted a European style of campaigning, attempting to curry favour by focusing on corruption scandals that simply did not resonate with the majority of the Maltese people at the time. Key issues that affect the majority of the population directly are what controls the vote in Malta, an attitude rooted in our culture and history.
Third parties were not always as small as they are now, we only have to look back as far as the 1950s to see Mabel Strickland’s Progressive Constitutional Party. The PCP, a splinter party of the formerly prominent Constitutional party, had a voice in major events in Maltese history such as the move for integration with Great Britain and the subsequent independence movement. The PCP acted as a vague middle ground on these issues most of the time lacking conviction in their political aspirations. An example of this was the PCP’s reservations over Mintoff’s vie for integration, despite being pro-British, due to fears over the subsequent standing of the catholic church in Malta. While this was an issue worth considering at the time, it was one that did not inspire voters, opposition to integration lying firmly in PN’s agenda and thereby leaving Strickland as an accessory to it.
The party’s eventual decline into irrelevance reveals the reason why we seem stuck in a bipartisan state, the fact that most issues in Maltese politics have been bipolar, a yes or no question. Voices such as Strickland’s, much like today’s third parties, tend to fall to the wayside when trying to propose alternate solutions or even try to draw attention to other pressing matters. Similar to this, third parties will continue being relegated into the political camps of the two major parties if they continue to draw attention to other, less important issues before the main questions of the time. Is it right that economic questions supersede environmental ones? Well, that’s up to the voter ultimately but if parties wish to grow, they must vie for relevancy to then have a platform to push their respective agendas.
Entire generations have been forged by these “yes or no” political questions that leave little room for other issues and to assume that we can quickly change ourselves to move closer to western standards is far fetched at best.
Culture is the single most important factor in the voter’s mind. Major parties realise this and benefit continuously that they stand to gain the most by maintaining the status quo. The two major parties understand that elections must be won through 'divide and conquer' politics. Third parties will never have a permanent stay in the limelight until they not only realise this fact but embrace it.
Rather than subvert Maltese culture, smaller parties must learn to be free of the ideologies of their formation and adapt. While this won’t guarantee a sudden landslide victory, it will be the first step into finally being the change they say they want to bring about. Being frustrated that the Maltese don’t care about the environment or corruption as much as you do will not change their vote.
Real change will require smaller parties to take themselves more seriously by venturing out beyond the confines of their ideology to attract a more diverse group of voters.
We find ourselves within a vicious circle, the culture of “Saints and Fireworks” leaving us to settle election after election. I am not satisfied with any of the options, the least of which being the third parties that could be doing so much more.
Do better for Malta.