Many people have asked what I think. Here’s my answer.

Published: June 1, 2017 at 1:42pm

For the first time in years, I really don’t know what to think about the potential outcome of a general election. Had you asked me even just four weeks ago, I would have said that it is impossible for Muscat to lose because he started out with a 36,000-vote majority and couldn’t have possibly lost all that in just four years – and then with all this talk about how well the economy is doing, which people believe.

Thirty-six thousand votes are a hell of a lot in the Maltese context. Muscat could have haemorrhaged 35,000 of those votes – and that would be rising fury we are seeing around us – but it would still leave him a thousand to play with, and he only needs a single vote to win.

But the situation now isn’t what it was only four weeks ago. Over the course of the campaign there’s been a quite noticeable shift against Muscat and his henchmen, with mounting anger and openly expressed contempt. People who had boasted about voting for him in 2013 are now saying publicly that they’re going to vote against him, that they’re shocked, let down, dismayed, disgusted.

Young people – who had so obviously deserted the Nationalist Party in 2013 and were nowhere to be seen at mass meetings and public events (supporting the Nationalists was then akin to having a disease) are now flocking in their droves to PN meetings, wrapped in the flag like it’s 2003, and actually crowding to be right there in the front row for the cameras.

Even Simon Busuttil’s loudest and nastiest detractors have now fallen silent on that score as his popularity goes through the roof: the clean, honest man with the clean, honest girlfriend, the polar opposites of the avaricious and tacky couple who have made the crowd’s blood boil in anger.

And as this happens, Muscat – who started the campaign with his standard cocky attitude and smug arrogance – has been visibly shrinking rapidly. The cockiness has gone. Instead of shooting sarcastic tu quoque retorts at journalists, he now avoids them altogether, unless they are friendly ones who can be stage-managed, like Reno Bugeja and Saviour Balzan on TVM.

Quite frankly, I think he’s at a loss as to how to cope in the face of the general opprobrium. For the whole nine years since he became party leader, Muscat has been celebrated on a cloud of glory. All his public communications, his style, everything, have been perfected in the context of real and anticipated admiration.

The annoying only son of doting older parents, who has been accustomed from birth to being the centre of attention for adults in whose eyes he could do no wrong, and who admired his every move and word, reached his 40s in a similar situation, always placing himself in contexts where he would shine, largely because there was no competition – for example, politics in the Labour Party, and journalism at Maltastar and Super One.

Now, for the first time in his life and as late as his mid-40s, he has experienced the shock of public contempt. Why, people don’t admire me! They want me to get out of their faces! They’re counting the days until they can vote me out! The people who swarmed around me are now making no secret of the fact that they’re swarming around Simon! The election hasn’t arrived yet and what’s this, people are treating me like the loser! Four years ago they were sucking up to Michelle at Girgenti, and now they’re laughing at her and her Valentino Rock Studs and saying how greedy she is and how tacky!

Muscat cannot deal, either psychologically or in practical terms, with the anger of the public. He probably senses that if this were not Malta in 2017, there would be large crowd bearing pitchforks outside the Villa Francia, and more pitchforks surging up the stairs of the Auberge de Castille with the express purpose of defenestrating him, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Kurt Farrugia, that Glenn Bedingfield would be turning on a spit in a public square, with a view to providing a week’s food for labourers.

This, and not fear, is probably the reason Muscat has been avoiding all public appearances which cannot be stage-managed, and has even ducked out of interviews, including the ‘statutory’ Broadcasting Authority televised press conference with the party leaders, which has been a general election fixture for decades. He cannot cope with the fact that he no longer has the upper hand.

But still, I don’t know. It FEELS like he should lose, but as with Brexit and Trump, we have to factor in the silence of those who are too embarrassed to say that they will vote for the ‘shameful’ option.

In my experience, it’s rarely fear which stops people saying how they will vote, but more often embarrassment, even of themselves and anonymous pollsters. With everyone saying how corrupt Muscat is and how he is running a criminal outfit and not a government, how do you announce, at the dinner-table or a cocktail party, that you’re planning on voting for him?

Evita Peron – clearly the model for Mrs Muscat’s outfit and approach