FinancialGuy Writes!

You have never seen election campaigning like this before!

In recent days the world’s media has penned numerous uncomplimentary words about the EU’s smallest country. These words were prompted by the current Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, calling a general election roughly one year early. The reason for this snap election is that the ongoing Panama Papers scandal(s) has finally involved him.

Well, it didn’t exactly involve him. Allegations were made by Maltese blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia that Egrant Inc – a third company in the scandal – actually belongs to his wife. (For an excellent summary, please read this).

The election will be held on 3rd June, near the end of Malta’s EU Presidency, so it is possible that the Presidency will end with a different leader than it began.

Why Is This Election So Unusual?

Firstly, the players. Malta has two main political parties – the Labour party who currently hold a parliamentary majority and the opposing Nationalists. Understandably, the country is suddenly being blanketed by billboards and adverts by the two parties.

On the one side, the Labour imagery seems to be all about Joseph. It is as if the rest of the party no longer exists. The party name does not appear on their posters and the domain name being advertised is josephmuscat.com. His entire party seems to have just vanished! He and the party obviously thinks that he is their winning ticket and so everything ought to focus on him.

(I can see why he would think that. This parliament has been plagued by scandals and he has proven himself to be the most adept at handling the media and not making things worse when he speaks.)

On the other side, the Nationalist’s billboards show photos of the Prime Minister, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and the other Minister engulfed in the scandal, Konrad Mizzi. They are playing the “you can’t trust these guys” card.

So if it is all about Joseph, is this a one person election?

Well, no. Not exactly.

The Maltese news in recent weeks has been made almost exclusively by the blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. Day after day her site has published leaks, revelations, scandals and damning documents. The other outlets are spending a lot of time reporting on her efforts. She openly admits to being a Nationalist voter, but from what I can discern, not really a big supporter. Instead she mostly describes her political affiliations as voting for the least worst party.

What seems to be happening is that her impact has been so great that Labour appears to be fighting her, not the opposition! She recently wrote that she has been hit by around 30 libel suits in recent weeks, plus complaints from other companies and more.

At this point I ought to make clear that there have been an incredibly large number of allegations made. Some of those have been backed up with documents (from the Panama Papers, mostly), while many have not. However, I think it would be fair to say that currently almost every Maltese citizen and long-term resident that I know believes them. Even my few hardcore Labour supporting friends believe the claims.

In fact, the flurry of libel suits has been so dense that it is clear to everyone that she would be completely mad to not have the proof. Additionally, her allegations have been incredibly specific, in the kind of way that would be impossible to guess.

Two Competing Messages

As is usual in an election, the current health of the economy is front and centre. Here, the main positions could not be more polarised.

Labour’s message is that growth has been strong, everything is great so let us continue.

The competing view – to which I happen to subscribe – is that the latest revelations and continued lack of Police or regulatory action show the rule of law to be compromised, and will have a devastating impact on the island’s international financial services sector and that has the potential to have a significant knock-on effect into other sectors. This might be the top of the bubble.

Who Will Win?

Maltese elections are often won by a few hundred votes, so being very close is the norm. This might well follow that same path. If that happens, then who knows…?

The polls continue to show Labour and Muscat with a lead. After Trump and Brexit we all know how we feel about polls. What is clear though, is that if Muscat wins again – even with the thinnest of majorities – the people will have voted that never-ending corruption allegations are just fine for their politicians, the financial services sector really will be dead and that these will be both a heavy weight and a political strain on the country, it’s economy and it’s people.

Other than that, everything is just peachy…

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