The third party vote: a new lease of life for the Greens

A total of 9,308 voters opted for third parties in the 2022 election

Arnold Cassola (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Arnold Cassola (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

A total of 9,308 voters opted for third parties in the 2022 election, while 8,802 chose to invalidate their vote in an election that saw over 51,500 people not voting.

This means that a massive 69,610 did not vote for either PN or PL – a staggering 19.6% of all registered voters.

But despite waning political loyalties, third parties still account for just 3.2% of votes cast.

ADPD leader Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD leader Carmel Cacopardo

While third parties managed to improve over abysmal 2017 vote scores, with third-party votes increasing from 3,902 to 9,308 votes, they largely failed in capitalizing on this groundswell, with more people preferring to stay at home than supporting a third party.

Significantly in the first seven districts, invalid votes outnumbered third party votes: the only exception was the third district (Zejtun, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, Għaxaq) where the sympathetic independent candidate Nazzareno Bonnici ‘tal-Ajkla’ probably attracted the sentiment of people who in other districts spoiled the vote.

But the number of third-party votes outnumbered invalid votes in all other districts, except Gozo. This was especially the case in the 10th and 11th districts where independent candidate Arnold Cassola gained 904 votes in both constituencies.

In this election the share of third parties ranged from 2.2% in the sixth district to 4.6% in the 11th. On the other hand, invalid votes ranged from 2.3% in the 10th district to 3.6% in the fifth district.

ADPD clearly reclaimed its place as Malta’s main third party, contrary to what happened in the European elections in 2019 where the Greens were upstaged by the far-right. But in this election, the two conservative and right-wing outfits, namely the Partit Popolari and Abba, only attracted 1% of the vote together.

A breakdown of the third-party vote by ideological orientation shows that while the progressive, liberal and centre-left lists – ADPD, Arnold Cassola and Volt – picked 6,543 votes or 2.2% of the vote, the two conservative right-wing parties picked only 3,108 votes.

This suggest that in a general election it is liberal and progressive voters who are more ready to break with the two-party system, while conservative or right-wing parties who generally appeal to more traditional voters are less likely to make inroads. Unlike the European electons, right-wing voters are more likely to rally behind the big parties who have more to offer in terms of patronage and bread and butter issues.

In contrast ADPD was more likely to capitalise on the increase in environmental awareness and disgruntlement with planning decisions.

But both AD and the far-right have increased their vote share over 2017. AD saw its support increase by over 2,000 votes over 2017, despite competition from Volt and Cassola.

Abba and the Partit Popolari also got 1,770 more votes than the combined sum of the Moviment Patriotti Maltin and ABBA’s predecessor, Alleanza Bidla.

Significantly, while the two right-wing parties got half their total vote from the first seven districts, only 39% of votes for progressive third parties vote hail from these districts. But AD made significant inroads in the seventh district which includes Zebbug and Attard, where the party got its second-best result (2.2%). The Greens registered their best score on the 12th district where 2.4% voted for the Greens. The anti-immigrant Partit Popolari also got their best result (0.7%) in the ethnically diverse twelfth district while the ultra-conservative ABBA got its best result on the fourth district.

Not surprisingly AD’s vote contracted on the tenth and eleventh districts, which were contested by its former leader Arnold Cassola. But the Greens got their worst result on the first district which includes Valletta and Hamrun.

AD also competed with Volt, which run on a social liberal platform and gained 382 votes in its first showing on four districts. On the eighth and ninth districts, Volt even managed to get more votes than both Abba and the Popolari.

While most third-party votes were non-transferable, the PN marginally inherits more third-party votes then Labour. And despite ideological differences a significant portion of right-wing votes are also inherited by AD.

What future for the Greens?

Despite a lacklustre campaign where the party struggled to get its message across, voters have given ADPD a new lease of life, probably rewarding it for its consistency on environmental issues. Following the resignation of Carmel Cacopardo, the party will be expected to renew itself by putting a new generation of leaders at the helm. Much depends on whether the party can manage to attract civil society activists who can inject new life in the party.

Following its merger with the PD, Alternattiva Demokratika has managed to reverse its decline from 2013 when the party peaked at 1.8%. One major factor in this election is that the PN was no longer contesting in coalition with the PD. In 2017 this could have been a major factor in AD losing nearly half its vote.

And while the coalition between the PD and the PN is largely derided, the results suggest that the gap between PN and PL is now the same as in 2017 when PD votes are subtracted from the PN’s vote share. This suggests that more voters were willing to put a peg on their nose to vote PN in coalition with the PD, than to vote for the PN alone.

Another factor contributing to ADPD’s relative success may have been that in the knowledge that Labour was the sure winner, more voters felt free to experiment with their vote. This suggests that Labour’s super-majorities create a situation favourable to third parties simply because potential third-party voters are less susceptible to pressure by big parties, who blame them for wasting their vote and contributing to the defeat of the “lesser evil”. In fact, third parties largely escaped the radar of the big parties, with the PN not resorting to its pre-electoral warnings against voting AD on the eve of every election prior to 2017.

But in this election, the Greens also managed to make up for inevitable losses in the 10th and 11th districts which were contested by Arnold Cassola, by making significant gains in the seventh district where the party’s votes have increased from 375 in 2013 to 510 in 2022.

Compared to 2013, the party also made gains in Labour districts like the fourth districts where the party’s share increased from 1.1% (254 votes) in 2013 to 1.7% (391 votes) now. In the 12th district AD has also recovered its 2013 vote share to get the party’s best result (2.4%). And while the party still gets better results in northern districts, the party is now stronger in Labour-leaning areas.

But despite surviving against all odds, the future of the Greens depends on them reinventing their long expired brand, especially in view of increased competition by new parties like Volt.

The election rewarded the perseverance and strong character of former AD leader Arnold Cassola, who got more than 2% in both districts he contested. It remains to be seen whether Cassola’s performance will encourage more ‘serious’ independents to contest elections, or whether his vote will be re-absorbed by the Greens.

Yet despite his positive performance, which was the best one for an independent candidate in post-war elections since 1952, Cassola fell short of AD’s 2013 results on both his districts, where the party had surpassed the 700 mark. Cassola did manage to inherit a significant number of votes, including 138 from PN leader Bernard Grech, but was nowhere close to being elected.