There’s something disturbingly dystopian about this image. As part of his election campaign, Labour candidate Ray Abela, handed out VR headsets to schoolchildren. Here he is posing in a campaign photo with a row of young pupils wearing his branded headsets. In between the covering of their eyes, and the masks down to beneath their chin, a chilling fetishist image of underage girls clad as ponies with blinkers, brow bands, cheek pieces, and bits, and reins held together by a throat latch.

Ray Abela cannot be credited with having any of this in mind. To him the competition for a Parliamentary seat is a bidding war of politicians bribing voters with gifts. He has access to IT equipment because of his personal business so he can bribe voters by putting wearable gismos on their children. To put things in perspective basic VR headsets, start at about €30 sales price. Presumably, Ray Abela, should be able to source a few at a cost price of maybe a third of that.

It’s not about the cost. It’s about the value given to this gift by voters. Perhaps some are impressed with the toy. Perhaps some are just impressed with anything that’s free, no matter that they have no clue what to use the gift for. Whatever the reason for his voters to appreciate the gifts, Ray Abela distributed them because he believes, rightly or wrongly, that his expenditure will yield him votes.

I’ve discussed here how this is not merely immoral. It is expressly forbidden by law. I haven’t seen anyone get out of bed to stop this though. Nor am I likely to.

Like people who turn into pigs in some colourful Miyazaki nightmare, voters do not stop to wonder what the catch is. Why are politicians giving them food and gifts for free? Why is this a good thing? If the price is voting for the guy, let’s eat their food and walk away with their free things.

This specific case drew Times of Malta’s attention because of the children featuring in Ray Abela’s campaigning. To get the parents’ vote, he stalked children outside the school gate and plied them with a gift from a stranger something all sensible parents should warn children against.

Has no one told those girls not to accept anything for free from a creepy middle-aged man they have never seen before? And if they haven’t, shouldn’t they have told them that when the creepy man puts a blindfold over their eyes, that would be a good time to start screaming for help?

I concede that it is certainly possible the entire image is staged, and the schoolgirls have been offered up for this tacky photo with the willing complicity of their parents. (They’d probably call it consent). Well, I’m sorry, a campaign image must first be judged by the way it looks and this looks horrible. And in any case it’s meant not to look staged but to look spontaneous, as in really a middle aged man gave schoolgirls gifts as they came out of school. So the possible excuse that it may have been staged is irrelevant.

The image is a chilling representation of the state of our democracy: politicians using money to distract young people from the future they are about to inherit from older voters whose electoral decisions are based on the last politician paying for drinks at the bar.

And Ray Abela manages to add some revolting sexual undertones to the process as well. In a bidding war of hollow electioneering, someone had to find a way to outdo Rosianne Cutajar fondling pairs of juicy oranges as she nudges and winks.