29th February 2008The
Ultimately the vote should be the result of personal judgement and while expressing opinions and indicating strengths and weaknesses of the options available, I think that columnists like me should not go beyond guiding their readers to choose sensible criteria on which to base their judgement.
While I have often expressed my natural inclination for the left of centre of the political spectrum and while appreciating that true democracy demands occasional alternation of executive power, if for nothing else to water down the accumulation of arrogance and staleness that long tenure of power inevitably produces, in the end I am a firm believer that change should not be merely for change’s sake and parties should be elected to power on their own merits rather than on the demerits of others.
As we enter the final week of this election campaign and as this is the last contribution where I can comment on the issue, next Friday being the silent day on the eve of the election, I propose to analyse how the campaign has progressed so far and who is building or losing momentum.
There is little doubt that among those who had made up their mind already at the start of the campaign Labour were then scoring a wide margin over the PN. However, given a wide swath of voters who were still undecided, it was also clear that the final success depended on very strong performance during the election campaign.
With a week to go, my best judgement is that while the size of undecided voters has now reduced to a mere few thousands, their final choice is still decisive to determine the final outcome as among those who have already decided the substantial gap at the start of the campaign has now dwindled to nothing.
The obvious conclusion if this assessment is correct is that the PN have gained much better momentum than Labour during the campaign. This is hardly surprising given that the undecided voters at the start of the campaign were mostly those with traditional allegiance to the PN. Still it speaks well of the efficacy of the PN’s campaign in bringing back into their fold a great majority of these undecided voters but Labour have helped them well and in no small measure.
Proof of this is that the agenda is being dominated by the faults, contradictions or outright confusion perceived in the main measures proposed by Labour rather than the fatigue of the PN in government and the inadequacy of their performance. The lack of coherent policy in Labour’s strategy is too obvious to allow any reasonable doubt that Labour arrived at this campaign much less prepared than they pretend.
Probably the biggest judgement error made by Labour is they departed too willingly from their best trump card, the government’s fatigue and arrogance of major exponents of the PN who are clearly suffering from an overstay in power, and made their own life unduly difficult in defining specific measures rather than general objectives. Objectives like achieving real growth of six per cent p.a. average over the next five years have little to disagree with and would allow wide freedom of operation once they accede to government. Specific measures to reduce the utilities surcharge by half within the first week in government raises more questions than answers.
What if Labour find a much worse financial situation than they presently know about as happened in 1996? What if the price of oil in the international market doubles? Would they be raising the basic utility rates so as to make the surcharge irrelevant? Would they be funding this by raising other taxes? Would they compromise our commitment to maintain a balanced budget as from 2010? And those already exempt from the surcharge – aren’t they feeling left out from such a measure that would ease the burden for the well-off who can afford to overuse energy whatever it costs while leaving social cases in the cold?
With the backing of friendly media and Labour’s inability to provide credible answers (who can believe that even if the price of oil goes to $1,500 per barrel the surcharge would still be cut in half?) the PN have been successful in changing the headline agenda of the campaign from the demerits of the government to the demerits of Labour’s measures. Instead of discussing why the reconstruction of Manwel Dimech bridge is still work in progress, we discuss whether the reception class year would also apply to private schools who do not support it!
However, while the PN have more reason to feel satisfied with the way the campaign has proceeded so far there is nothing to suggest that the final election outcome is in any way secured or compromised.
Ultimately the few thousands who are still weighing their vote could prove decisive. And the very fact that having come so far and are still undecided means that these decisive voters are those who are convinced that a change is needed but are not yet convinced that Labour is sort of change they aspire for. They will have to make up their mind within the next week whether their desire for change is greater than the risk they perceive in mandating the wrong sort of change.
A week is a long time in politics and it could well be that Labour have saved the best for last. The exposition of serious but hidden consideration given to introduction of co-payments for health services under the next PN administration gives an indication that this last week Labour could regain control of the agenda.
In the final week of the election campaign you can rest assured that the dominating theme will be whether the undecided voters should choose between Gonzi or Sant or between the PN and Labour.