The celebrations are now over and the country is sobering back into normality after all the hype that elections bring with them. The Prime Minister and his executive team are now sworn in and settling in their roles in order to hit the ground running with one of the most ambitious electoral manifestos in recent history. Simultaneously, political parties now start to re-organise themselves in order to get ready for the next electoral exercise, the MEP elections in 2024. Whilst the PN hopes to be third-time lucky with its soul-searching exercise, the PL needs to continue doing what it has been successfully doing in the last couple of years; renewing itself continuously.
Naturally, the first step of any renewal process is to understand one’s current state of affairs. The results of a recent election present an excellent data set that allows for an evidence-based analysis. If one was to analyse this result from a high-level, one can easily say this was yet another impressive win for Labour. It truly is impressive because Labour has not only convincingly won yet another election, but it has also increased the gap over the next biggest political force by roughly 4,000 votes. With a 55% share of votes, this is the best result Labour has achieved since 1955.
When one considers that this is the third consecutive General Election won by this margin it becomes even more impressive. Typically, governments lose their steam and popularity after ten years in power, but thanks to a silent revolution that has been happening in the last couple of years, the current Labour administration is notably transformed when compared to the 2013 administration. The electorate chose Labour again not only because of the strong electoral manifesto it presented, but also because the electorate is appreciating that whilst they are still choosing the same party in government, they are also choosing a new set of brains to run the country.
Whilst I am sure this will not be the case, it would be foolish of Labour to rest on its laurels and not analyse all the possible granular interpretations of this election. The Labour Party must understand the various messages that the electorate delivered this time round if it is to continue its relentless renewal successfully.
It would be foolish of Labour to rest on its laurels and not analyse all the possible granular interpretations of this election.
The most obvious reality we have from this electoral result is the high rate of voter abstention. Whilst the participation of the electorate in elections has been steadily going down over the last couple of elections, there seems to be a more dramatic trend this time round. Between the 2003 and the 2017 election, turn out in elections dropped by roughly 3% from 95.7% in 2003 to 92.1% in 2017. In 2022, this dropped sharply by approximately 6%; this is definitely not due to a natural trend only, but other phenomena that need to be discovered.
Whilst voter abstention seems to be higher in districts that are typically PN leaning; every district, including Labour strongholds saw below average turnouts. Who are the voters that are not impressed by either party? Why are they so? What hurt or disillusionment is this subset of our electorate feeling? These are some of the questions Labour needs to ask in order to stop the bleed and continue to remain the most relevant political force in the country.
Together with voter abstention, there was a higher portion of invalid votes this time round. This has more than doubled from 1.3% in 2017 to 2.9% this time round. There also seems to be a clear distinction between the PN and the PL protest vote. The predominant ‘No Delia No Vote’ protest vote in the PN camp is a clear sign of the internal infighting within the party in opposition; something that so far four party leaders have failed to understand how to address. On the other hand, the protest messages directed at Labour seem to be coming more from past PL voters who feel hurt or unserved by the administration they previously trusted. Labour needs to listen more to understand where it may have erred, and potentially explain more because it may very well be that certain reforms, whilst very much needed, may have hurt some Labour leaning voters. Whilst one may argue that the percentages of invalid voters are rather small, one must not forget that every percentage point of invalid votes represents the views of roughly 3,000 citizens.
Whilst it is true that the Labour Party stunningly won the election with 55% of votes cast, it is also true that with 162,707 votes it received from the 355,075 registered voters, Labour enjoys the support of 46% of the electorate. Does this mean that 54% are against Labour? No, but a good subset of voters do not feel comfortable enough in fully placing their trust in Labour either. To put things in perspective, in 2017 Labour garnered 170,976 votes out of a total of 341,856 eligible voters. This represented 50.1% of electoral support.
One must also observe that if the gender proportionality mechanism is not in place, female representation in parliament will be shockingly low in this legislature. Considering the effort that is being made to ensure equal representation and the strong complement of female candidates Labour presented to the electorate, the final outcome of the election result needs to be properly studied in order to understand why very few women were actually voted in. Could this be a sign that our society is still heavily patriarchal? One hopes that, thanks to the gender proportionality mechanism, this starts to change and our electorate starts to appreciate how you do not have to be a man to lead. If this becomes the case, one hopes this would also positively affect other aspects, such as community leadership and business leadership.
So is it all doom and gloom? Definitely not! The Labour Party starts this journey to the next election with three advantages.
Primarily, it has an ambitious manifesto that when implemented in its totality, will leave a strikingly better Malta to what we have now.
Secondly, it starts this journey with the highest popular support.
Thirdly, Labour is already well-oiled in listening and renewing. If it weren’t so, we wouldn’t be seeing a relatively different administration to the one of 2013.
On the other hand, the other political force on the island must first find a workable solution to its internal squabbles, fix its financial woes and then come down from the high pedestal to listen and humbly start the much-needed renewal based on popular feedback. In the meantime, Labour will shift up a gear in its pre-existing renewal capabilities to remain the strongest and most trusted option of the Maltese electorate.
Brian Scicluna is Vice Chairperson of Fondazzjoni IDEAT