timesofmalta.com - In the shadow of the talki ng billboards
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(Sunday, May 31, 2009)
In the shadow of the talking billboards
Author: Claire Bonello
Two talking billboards have appeared in Freedom Square. The first to be put up was that of the Labour Party. While it
hums out the lyrics of a popular song, asking "Are we human or are we dancer?" we get shots of the Labour MEP candidates
repeating their electoral pledges. Sometimes - to shake us out of our early-morning indifference or our allergic
reaction to pre-electoral promises - we are buzzed back to attention by the 'Xokk' spots about the utility rates. A very
European problem indeed.
There is no escaping the reign of the talking billboards. On the way out of Valletta, we are confronted with the PN
billboard. Here, it's blue skies alternating with the negative ads about the Labour Party. A friend commented on how
intrusive and annoying she found the gigantic talking boards. They may be that, but they're the perfect symbols of this
electoral campaign - or at least how it's being run by the PN and the PL. In a nutshell, their campaigns were costly
exercises, consisting of negative messages and shouting the other side down. The talking billboards in Freedom Square
have drowned each other out. Similarly, any calm, rational debate about how the country may be better represented in the
European Parliament has been drowned out in the PN-PL crossfire.
Practically all the political parties are pulling all the stops to bring out the vote. They seem to think that
the voters will stay away from the polling booth. They are afraid of the protest abstention votes - people who want to
convey their disagreement with the party in government or with politicians in general, and who would rather shred their
ballot papers rather than vote. It is tempting to imagine that mass abstentions will make politicians sit up and take
notice. Only, it doesn't quite work out that way.
However low the voter turnout is, a certain number of candidates will be elected. By not voting, you miss out on the
opportunity to influence the outcome of the elections. Other people get to choose the candidates you may shudder at.
Whether voter turnout is 90 or 30 per cent, five or six MEPs are going to be representing the country in Brussels after
By voting for decent candidates, you make sure they're the ones who make it and not the crazily inconsistent ones, the
pathetically sensationalist ones or the deceptive ones. It would be far more galling to realise that you were indirectly
responsible for electing someone you don't care for, simply because you didn't vote for a better candidate.
Having opted out of the system, you'd have to live with the inevitable consequences of your action, namely that you
passed up your opportunity of voting to keep the mugs out and off the gravy train. By staying away, you would have given
them a leg up on to it.
I think the Prime Minister's decision to enter into the fray himself and conduct this campaign as if it was a
national election was a strategic mistake. It may have been a reaction to the Gonzi-focused Labour campaign, a campaign
aimed at showing up every unfulfilled pre-electoral promise and every half-truth uttered in the delirious ecstasy of
However, his involvement has upped the stakes for the PN and the Prime Minister himself. Now, the EP election can no
longer be dismissed as a relatively unimportant opportunity for disenchanted voters to let off steam and to use their
vote as a two-fingered salute to the government. With the Prime Minister campaigning so visibly, the electoral outcome
will inevitably be taken as a reflection on whether he remains the PN's biggest asset.
Say what you like about Lawrence Gonzi, but the rebranding of the party as Gonzipn was carried off largely due to his
efforts. Before the last general election, he was everywhere, smiling, reassuring, an icon for a party which appeared to
have run out of steam. Banking everything on one man was risky but it worked. A year on, the Prime Minister looks tired,
less snappy and resorting to tactics which are not fitting of a politician of his stature.
During the Bondiplus debate with the Leader of the Opposition, he had to rely on Lou Bondi's trivial revelation
regarding Joseph Muscat's cars for viewers' attention to be deviated from the issue regarding the end of a free
If the Nationalist candidates do not fare well at the polls, a large part of the blame will be apportioned to the Prime
Minister, who formed an integral part of the campaign, and he will be linked, however tenuously, to an electoral defeat.
The PN icon would have been tarnished, a result which was clearly one of Labour's aims when the Gonzi-centric campaign
This campaign has been characterised by bumbling button-pushers, deceptive advertisements, Muscat's cars, and
candidates who change more positions than the Kama Sutra. I'm rather averse to candidates who flip-flop about the
issues, sometimes within the space of 24 hours. There's a lot to be said for consistency and a clear stand on positions,
even if they're not the latest bandwagon around. That's why I'll be casting my first preference votes for Alternattiva
Demokrattika - the only party to uphold European and environmentally friendly values from day one, and one which may
represent Malta in a third political grouping in the European Parliament.
Watching the U-turns and contortions on the other sides of the political divide may be entertaining but otherwise quite
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