Is voting for the “lesser evil” a reasonable option?

Posted on February 27, 2008 by

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This is a question several thousand people will be asking themselves at the moment: and it will be the determining factor on March 8th.

If Malta were simply a business venture, my hunch is that the Nationalist Party would cruise through to another  deserved victory for being a “very good” rather than a “less bad” option. But although the ugly terms “Malta plc” and “Brand Malta” have been coined over the past years, implying that Malta, Alitalia and Nike are interchangeable entities, we are actually still citizens of a country, rather than simply employees and employers, service providers and service receivers, consumers and manufacturers.

And this is precisely where the “lesser evil” dilemma kicks in.

We are faced with an unconvincing, depressingly meaningless option on one side and a party whose value system is remarkably similar to the Vatican’s on the other. For many of us, perhaps those of us with a genuine liberal bent, this is a real problem, not a vexatious little quibble. What we have is a worrying choice between Total Cynicism in the left corner and a Teodem party in the right corner; a choice between the marathon man of European opposition politics on the one hand and a caste of devout Catholic politicians on the other. On one side, a group of people whose political survival appears to trump any other consideration (including the good of the party). On the other, a party for which the word ‘divorce’ remains a taboo and which plays the “abortion card” in order to taint its opponents.

If you genuinely dislike both options should you plump for the “lesser evil”?

We are being told that it is not only the pragmatic option but that it is the only responsible option open to us. Not just that. We are being told by independent journalists that those who refuse to adhere to the “lesser evil” philosophy are “setting themselves up as hate figures” if they communicate their convictions to others.

But accepting the “lesser evil” line of thinking is also dangerous in a democracy , as it entails substituting enthusiasm for a political programme with fear. It can backfire as a feeling of disgust and rejection in those who feel that they are “voting with a gun to their head” as one commentator put it graphically.

The vocabulary used (“hate figures” and “guns to the head”) show how prevalent the fear factor is in Maltese politics. Private individuals are seen to be legitimate targets of hatred and psychological violence for expressing their belief in a third way. Others are actually prepared to engage in a form of political masochism in order to keep the perceived “greater evil” at bay.

Those who vote on the basis of this logic may be led to feel that they are being pragmatic. But thinking along these lines is a trap in which the voter behaves much more like a slave to circumstance, than like a free agent. It is an indictment of our political system and political class that thousands of us will turn up at the polling booth convinced that “we have no choice”. It is an indictment of a country which believes that it is free but whose people are still held hostage by fear. Even worse perhaps, it is an indictment of a people who continue to think that it is inevitable for everyone (including the freest of free thinkers) to sacrifice free thought on the altar of political allegiance and expediency.

David Friggieri

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