All of the people I have been speaking to in Malta so far have been telling me about how the Maltese lifestyle closely resembles the Italian one. Italian fashion, Italian food, Italian corruption and many people speak Italian as a second or third language. Italy is also one of the most likely holiday destinations for Maltese traveling abroad. But some things are just different between Malta and Italy.
While Italian politicians struggle to keep their coalitions together for the full mandate, the Maltese Nationalist Party has almost uninterruptedly been in power for the last 20 years. Two years of Labour leadership have interfered in 1996-1997, but according to Alfred (30), the Nationalists still laugh at how Labour blew their chance. He fears a similar farce will follow if Labour sees a chance of winning the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for 8 March.
`Maltese youngsters are fond of the EU`
Alfred explains that scores are always tight during Maltese elections. We only have two major parties and they are the same every time. People tend to vote in line with what their parents used to vote, so most don`t ever change their opinion. About 13,000 floating voters will have to make the difference, and if it`s up to me, the Nationalist party can stay in power. Many people may not entirely agree with how they manage the country, but few of those see Labour as a suitable alternative.`
Alfred says that it`s the Nationalist Party who led Malta into the European Union: `Membership negotiations were frozen when Labour took over in 1996, but we can all see how much Malta`s membership has contributed to the economy.` Alfred`s positive opinion about the EU seems to be widely shared. I haven`t experienced as much EU enthusiasm in all of the 15 member states I visited before Malta.
Chris (24, photo) explains why the European Union is so popular among the Maltese youth: `We have a small economy that greatly depend on other countries. The road to EU memberships has forced us Malta to open up for foreign investment, to improve its infrastructure and to pay more attention to the environment. It also means we can decide on what`s happening around the world, instead of having to rely on the USA to play guard dog. We have a better access to the rest of the world now that we are in the EU.`
`The costs of living may rise because of the Euro, but we get a higher average standard of living in return, so I consider it a fair exchange. Labour say they will bring down the prices of oil, but I simply don`t believe they will be able to realise that. On top of that, they never wanted as much international integration as the Nationalists and I think that people who are sufficiently open-minded will vote for the Nationalist Party in this election.`
Clifden (30) will not vote this year. He says: `Politics mean nothing to me. I am neither specifically rich, nor very poor, I am not married nor do I have specific problems that I want anybody to solve. We wanted to upgrade our standard of living to European standards, well, that`s happening as we speak. I don`t think anybody in Malta is really poor, Look at England, they have beggars in the streets. We don`t. I think that only real Labour fanatics will vote Labour, but other than voting against the current government, I would not see a reason why I would vote for Labour.`
`We used to have one telecom company, one energy supplier, one of everything and the monopolies were invariably state-owned. There has been lots of modernisation going on and I think Malta is now Europe`s number 2 in broadband connections per household. The Nationalist government has strongly promoted internet use. During recent years, their `Blue Skies` arrangement has made broadband access available for everybody for just 3 euros a month. For the first year only, but still. It convinced many Maltese to start using digital services.`
Nadine (28) is one of a few thousand Nationalists who have gathered in Valetta this afternoon to see incumbent Prime Minister Gonzi deliver a speech. The event is held in an atmosphere that would also suit an open air pop festival, with snack and drink stands on the side and loud music spreading from loudspeakers next to the stage. When Mr Gonzi shows up, the audience wave huge flag, both the one for the Nationalist Party and the European Union flag.
During a lengthy monologue , Mr Gonzi clearly lists out the achievements made possible by the Nationalists in the last 10 years. EU membership is mentioned over and over again, and so is the increased attraction of foreign capital to Malta. IT development seems to be another asset. Nadine believes that the Nationalists will be allowed another term in the Maltese government, and that the upcoming elections are just a copy of the once held 5 years ago: `The people are the same, and so are the parties and the ideas.`
Diane (20) is not so fond of all the promises made by the Nationalist party. Unlike her friends, she will vote for the Labour party, just like her parents have always done. `Most people from the South vote Labour. We want to keep a proper balance between the different classes in society. I do not belong to the upper class and although I see the advantages of our EU membership and the Euro, I think that we have the right to protect our workforce instead of handing it all out to those who are already rich. The Nationalists have been in power for too long anyway. It`s time for some refreshment.`
No matter how hard the current government has worked on the integration of information technology in people`s daily lives, the votes will still be cast by marking a box with a pencil. No electronic voting machines, no E-voting over the internet and no M(obile) voting which Estonia will pioneer during their next elections. Voting in Malta in 2008 is still manual uhm.. labour.
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