DISCLAIMER: What you will be reading below is a letter written solely by Dario Cacopardo himself, having no affiliation to Insite Malta whatsoever. Following the receiving and publishing of the letter below, Insite has contacted SDM as well as Cacopardo himself for further comments and reactions. Another piece will be published very soon, following replies from the parties involved.
Dario Cacopardo’s side of events
“This is my third year at the University of Malta. I’ve been interested in current affairs and politics ever since I was a kid. Being a student at the University of Malta allowed me to get involved in new things and express my ideas in dynamic ways. In fact, I served a term in JEF, another on the ASCS sub-committee and acted as the KPS officer of the newly formed University of Malta Rowing Club.
A few months back I thought about climbing the next step. I thought that the best way to work for students is to represent them in the highest student body, KSU. Of course there are two political student organisations on campus, Pulse and SDM. SDM have been in office since forever, while Pulse have decided to not contest KSU elections, leaving SDM solitary again.
I’ve always been a neutral kind of person. I have tried my best to avoid ending up between two ‘clubs’ of persons that have a grudge on each other and resort to tribal partisan politics similar to what we experience in general elections, only on a micro student level. So I decided that although the easiest way to enter KSU would be to approach one side or the other and join the ‘club’, I opted to contest for the role of KPS Commissioner, independently.
This was not done out of disrespect to one side or the other, but simply because I always believed that my stand of neutrality should remain. I believed my position in this role would bring a new and healthy approach when put in a KSU context, with no strings attached to anyone.
I decided this is my chance, and I took it. Knowing that the election would be sometime after Student Fest and the KSU AGM, I slowly started preparing myself.
Most of my close friends encouraged me to contest and wished me luck. A few were critical and warned me to be cautious, “You’re going to find many walls Dario, beware” they would rant. At the back of my head I asked myself: “what exactly did they mean? What struggles was I going to find?
Just 4 weeks before, I formed a list of all student organisations on campus and started sending personal messages to members to meet them personally. I received positive feedback, suggestions and proposals, that I would use them later to form a manifesto to explain my vision for KPS.
One of the first organisations I messaged to meet up was SDM. Since they nominate the members that sit on the KSU executive, I thought it would make sense to receive their feedback first. Since I did not frequent SDM’s social circle, it was ideal to meet early to set an honest approach. I wanted to be super clear with them that I am ready to work and collaborate hand in hand with everyone.
I messaged Gabriel Micallef, SDM President on 9th April for a meeting. A day passed with no reply. I messaged Mr.Micallef again on the following day, to no avail. I started having negative thoughts, but wanted to remain positive. So I messaged SDM secretary, Neil Smart Costantino for a meeting, and finally I got a reply. He proposed to meet after Easter recess, 2 weeks later. So I waited patiently.
After the Easter holidays, I started hearing rumours that Gabriella Sutton, ex MHSA, secretary , will be contesting for Commissioner also. All well and good. Then I also heard rumours that SDM would be pushing her as their own ‘unofficial’ candidate for the post. I started to get worried, why would SDM push a candidate for an independent role? In the meantime, no one from SDM ever bothered to contact me for a meeting even though they were fully aware that I was contesting and I was in full swing meeting other student organisations to listen to their ideas.
Election was set for the 10th of May, with two candidates being nominated for the post: Ms. Sutton and myself. Finally two days before the election, last Monday, SDM accepted my offer to meet up and Neil Smart Costantino set up a meeting. The meeting lasted around an hour, and SDM seemed to be uninterested. I left the meeting discouraged, but rest assured that I did my part, although I honestly wanted to meet up weeks before.
That same Monday evening, Valeriya Bonkova lost the KE Commissioner election to Jacob Portelli. Rumours had it that SDM wanted Ms. Bonkova to get elected, with Mr. Portelli being considered as an ‘outsider’ to KSU by some people. You could tell that something was not on, the feeling around student’s house was tense.
It wasn’t long before the next day, the eve of the election that I started receiving messages from friends in other organisations warning me that SDM approached them and told them not to vote for me. I kept calm, and was hoping that this was not the case.
SDM were worried that I had a chance to get elected, and started mobilising people across the student organisation platform in a campaign of mudslinging, and heavy pressure on particular persons close to SDM in a number of organisations to not vote for me, fearing that I would get elected.
Election day fast approached. The feeling inside Common Room was tense in the final hour. There were at least 4 SDM executive members scattered around the room and I found this strange, as most of them never showed any interest in attending KPS meetings throughout the year. They looked all very worried and pale, and as I delivered my speech I could see them texting on their phones, continuously.
In a span of an hour it was over. I lost 22-17. All I needed was three more votes in my favour.
The pale faces in Common Room suddenly vanished. After the vote, I got to know that votes from organisations of which I had won trust switched their vote in the final minutes after pressure from SDM in a desperate manoeuvre to make sure I do not get elected.
My proposals were spun, and I fell victim to a dishonest whispering scaremongering campaign. I felt defeated and betrayed by the same persons that preach in every debate that the organs of KPS and KE are truly independent. I ended up in a tribal mess to make sure administrative power remains in the hands of the chosen ones only.
In no way I want to discredit Ms. Gabriella Sutton. I have always respected her, and will keep doing so. Ms. Sutton herself put up a competitive but fair fight. I am just frustrated that intervention from third parties in the dying hours of the campaign resulted in forced manipulation of a handful of organisations to vote against me. I had no chance against the wolves disguised as sheep.
I now remember the words of those who warned me to be careful. They were right; unless backed by SDM, your chances of being elected in what is supposed to be an independent election were close to 0.
I lost, it’s over. But I feel I have to write this, not for my sake - I’m done. I want to make sure that this does not happen again. No strings attached come at a hefty price. Tribal politics on campus is alive and kicking.
You can’t have the cake and keep it all for yourself. No wonder so many shy off away silenced. It is hurtful to see that the same people that preach so much against student apathy, are the biggest contributors to such apathy by keeping people they disagree with away.”
SDM were contacted, but did not get back to us until the time of publication as requested.