Our political candidates: an embarrassment of choice

From one general election to another, Malta’s main leading political parties, together with a few other small parties, and not to mention the negligible number of independent ones, field a good number of candidates. It is thus, that the Maltese electorate has an embarrassment of choice when coming to decide whom to vote for when contrasting that number to the size of the electorate itself. But what type of candidate is offered to the average Maltese voter?

Running for political office can be an exciting, high pressured endeavour. If a candidate is passionate about politics and public service, they should consider whether or not they have the skillset to run for political office. If they do decide to run, it is important to take some time and consider what type of candidate they will pattern themselves after. Normally, candidates are fielded depending on their background, their positioning, and the nature of the race in which they compete. It could be an incumbent candidate, holding the office for which he or she seeks re-election. A current prime minister ideally falls into this category. Or it could be a ‘status quo’ candidate of the incumbent party who appeals to the electorate to vote for continuity of leadership.

In direct opposition to the status quo appeal, the change agent candidates craft a platform that focuses on the governing party’s shortfalls and failures. Their message and argument would be aimed to demonstrate a need for true change in representation, leadership, and governance, as well as an overhaul in personnel, policy prescriptions, values, and vision. When last in opposition, the Labour Party had resorted to this type of ‘change’ mentality when choosing and fielding its candidates for the 2013 general election.

A political party could unknowingly, or with a lack of proper foresight, field what I would describe as an ‘insurgent’ candidate, one seen as outside the mainstream of the party, whose ascendancy challenges existing orthodoxy. Former nationalist MP Franco Debono stint within the PN could easily fit such a description. There are, then, those whom I would describe as the ‘establishment’ candidates, seen as deeply embedded in, or a product of, a party’s governing elite, whose policy prescriptions, behaviours, and postures should be shaped by adherence to and operation within the party’s dominant power element. A good number of them are popularly associated with the PN.

Independent candidates remain marginal vote-getters in the vast majority of elections in which they compete. The vote for independents has elements of a protest vote. Voters who vote for independent candidates tend to be more critical of the government and less satisfied with the way democracy works in their country than party voters. They are also less likely to feel close to any political party.

Most elected candidates start their political careers at the local level. Running for a local council election requires hard work and perseverance, but voters are willing to overlook a lack of political experience. If one is looking to get involved in electoral politics, running in a local election can be a great place to start. Anyone wanting to become a more informed, engaged citizen, knowing the ins and outs of campaign strategizing is paramount to understanding how political campaigns work. An understanding of the political system and experience in running a campaign gives a candidate a big edge over an inexperienced opponent.

So how would I define the characteristics of a good candidate? Those willing to serve are surely qualified to lead. Someone who has “fire in the belly” can make a good candidate, being one who has a desire to win and is willing to overcome obstacles. Running for elections is no easy task. A campaign will take every ounce of energy and spare time. A candidate must be prepared to rise early and stay up late to get the job done. The candidates’ worldview will dictate every decision they will make. Their political, social, or economic philosophy will depend on where their core beliefs are derived from. This determination is critical in every race, even at the local level.

Candidates must be able to speak in public and be able to articulate a message, even in the face of adversity. No candidate will be able to agree with all the voters; however, they must be willing to listen to all sides of an issue, and be able to communicate with supporters and opponents. No voter would want a candidate just for a fancy logo and a nice brochure. Intelligent voters would wish for candidates who know how to appeal to them and rally them behind a common cause with a clear message. A proper understanding of national and local issues is a necessity for any candidate. Knowledge of issues important to all groups such as senior citizens, farmers, small businesses, education, commerce, employment, etc. is critical.

Last but not least, an ideal candidate understands that a winning strategy requires a team effort involving volunteers and financial supporters. A candidate must be willing to ask and allow others to help him.

But is there any downside to all of this scenario? Ideally, each one of us would wish to support a candidate who truly reflects our values and highest ideals but such a candidate is somewhat hard to pick.

During a political campaign, everyone is concerned with what a candidate will do on this or that question if he is elected except the candidate because he or she is too busy wondering what to do if they do not get elected. At the end of the day, each party has its manifesto.

Let them talk their language, come to us, and we will decide. In a democracy, no party or candidate wins or loses. If we choose the wrong candidate, we lose; if we choose the right one, we win.

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