Timothy Alden: Who watches the watchmen?

5 Questions for the Deputy Head of Partit Demokratiku

Timothy Alden, 27, ran for the Sliema Local Council this year. Despite an electoral error that saw him running officially as an independent, he is in fact Partit Demokratiku’s deputy leader. His bid was unsuccessful, although he was one of the candidates with the most first count votes.

I sat down with Timothy to discuss, among other things, his next steps and Malta’s future.

1. Timothy, what do you feel lost you the local election?

On a local level I was not well known enough. I have a national profile, and I was very warmly received when conducting my door to door visits. However, I realised that not enough people had received my message, as people mostly did not know who I was when conducting my door to door visits. The irony is I may have got a better result had I contested the European election, where the country is one district – although of course I would not have made it to one of the six MEP seats.

There were many weaker candidates who had a quarter of the votes I had, but thanks to block voting down the party lists, the weaker candidates inherited the votes of the stronger candidates and I was unfortunately pushed out due to a lack of cross-party voting.

Timothy Alden in Party colour orange.

2. What was your campaign like and how did you engage with people?

When I returned permanently from my university studies three years ago, I started working for the NGO Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar where I gained the knowledge and motivation to enter politics focusing on environmental and heritage issues.

My campaign was for the Sliema local council – Sliema is one of the places which has suffered the most from overdevelopment. Many Sliemizi have moved out to less congested parts of the country over the years.

Sliema has been decimated by over development

In many aspects it seemed a natural choice to contest.

And yet I never imagined in my wildest dreams I’d ever be a politician. When I was approached by PD to join them at a social event, I stayed up much of the night thinking about it. If there’s one thing you’re raised in Malta to know it’s “don’t show your (political) colour”. Whatever stand you take is what brands you and defines you for the rest of your life. So I entered politics cautiously.

3. … so why would you take that kind of landscape on?

There are essentially two ways of going about life: either everything is a fight, a competition with only one winner, or everyone wins. It’s conflict vs cooperation. In Malta it’s all about conflict, it’s not a democracy with everyone’s interest at heart.

Whichever one of the parties that is in power will dole out the goodies to their supporters, so it’s not a meritocratic system, it’s a favours system. It’s a pretty toxic atmosphere because people feel they are defending their livelihoods essentially, their families and their friends, they have a lot to lose.

In a truly functioning democracy you could have political parties and an economy that seek the genuine common interest. That’s not achievable when people are always fighting for survival – and that’s what they believe they are doing!

I got into politics to convince everyone to work together, to build a bridge between the two parties. To acknowledge the good, criticise the bad, and ultimately cooperate. Everybody can win – it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.

4. All indications from the government are that they have no desire to cooperate: not on combatting money laundering, not on the environment, not on the various EU inquiries, and not on finding justice for a murdered journalist. How do you work with that?

The government has little incentive to seek cooperation because since 2013 it has enjoyed an overwhelming majority. The government is strong enough that it can pursue its destructive strategies because it has bought out enough people and has invested enough in propaganda to get away with anything.

But there is still hope for cooperation because at the end of the day it is human nature to want to be appreciated and to seek the best for oneself and one’s group. If the government can be shown better ways to do things and that not presented as challenges then the government is more likely to listen. The problem is the lobby groups, like the construction lobby, who have a vested interest in a conflict mindset by destroying the environment and ruining the health and peace of mind of residents. That is why we need state funding of political parties to entirely replace corporate donations. With certain reforms, cooperation becomes easier overall.

With or without cooperation, we need a strong Opposition. The Prime Minister said he wants a strong Opposition, but that’s really because he wants to eliminate third parties from the game, as they are more likely to take moderate Labour votes than the Nationalists are. The Nationalists want to be the only party in Opposition because they do not want competition. A really strong Opposition, however, is not just one party that tries to make everyone happy and compromises on its values. A strong Opposition can benefit from having a watchdog in Parliament – a third party to hold it to account. Otherwise, who watches the watchmen?

4. What does the future hold for you?

I have not yet made up my mind regarding what the best way forward is for me, because the fact it was so difficult for my message to get to the public is not a challenge easily overcome by using the media available to me. The two main political parties wrongly dominate radio and television.

If a new leader who deserves my loyalty presents himself or herself to take Partit Demokratiku to the next step, I would be tempted to remain and see this project through to its next chapter.

5) with a massive majority for Labour in both Europe and Malta, what does the future look like for the island?

On a daily basis, Malta is faced with new scandals and environmental and heritage disasters. Since the election I have taken a trip abroad to rest, and I realise from the outside looking in that the country has become an increasingly toxic anxiety machine, gridlocked with traffic and crowds of people fuelling Muscat’s neo-liberal nightmare, where money comes before people at every turn.

Joseph Muscat with Dr Christian Kalin of Henley & Partners
Credit: https://theshiftnews.com/2018/08/28/the-serenity-of-joseph-muscats-malta/

Things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better, and when people finally do turn against the government it might be for the wrong reasons, not for any higher ideals or for truth and justice. However, if people with solid values rather than a tribal mentality band together, they might be able to hold the balance of power and form a coalition eventually, which can institute the crucial reforms we may never otherwise see.

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