The Prime Minister has been teasing public opinion for some time as to when Parliament will be dissolved and when we will consequently be proceeding to the next general election.
Robert Abela has been quoted as stating that it will definitely be over by June 2022.
As things stand, at this point in time, it is within the Constitutional prerogative of the Prime Minister to determine when Parliament is dissolved and a general election held. This he does by advising the President of the Republic accordingly. It is generally assumed that such decisions are taken in the national interest even though it is amply clear that it is always in the interest of the political party in power. It reinforces the power of incumbency.
Is this right? Should it remain so?
My party has raised this matter in its submissions to the Constitutional Convention which Convention has been pending for a number of years!
It is being proposed that Parliament should be a fixed-term Parliament and that the Prime Minister should have no discretion whatsoever in dissolving Parliament. In practice both the United States as well as most of continental Europe have fixed-term Parliaments. Even the United Kingdom, some years ago, led by a Liberal-Conservative coalition, introduced legislation for a Parliament having a fixed-term.
Within this context it would be also pertinent to emphasise that a five-year term is a little bit too long. This was not always so. When Malta’s Parliament was originally established in 1921, 100 years ago, it had a three-year life span. The Australian Federal Parliament in this day and age is still elected every three years. The United States House of Representatives on the other hand is elected every two years.
Some could argue that a two- or three-year life span for parliament would be too short. Five years may be right for those governing. It is however too long for those in Opposition! A three-year term could be the right balance.
Parliament also needs fulltime MPs and probably less of them. A fulltime member of parliament would cut off completely all of his/her links with profession and/or employment and as a result substantially reduce instances of conflict of interest when faced with decision taking.
Parliament’s present size of 65 members was determined as a result of the 1974 Constitutional amendments. Since 1987, it is however not a definite size, as it is increased as a result of the constitutional adjustment mechanism for proportionality. It will be increased by a further twelve members if the newly introduced constitutional gender balance requirements are applied.
The next Parliament could be quite large if both the proportionality and gender balance adjustment mechanisms are in use. It could inflate to a size between 77 and 81 members! This is enormous for a country our size.
The electoral system, which the two parties currently in parliament have been tinkering with for ages, provides for proportionality and gender balance only if just two parties are elected into Parliament. If a third party is elected, both the constitutional provisions for proportionality and gender balance will not be activated. There is just one exception and this is relative to the political party which obtains more than 50 per cent of the votes on a national level: in such an instant, irrespective of the number of political parties making it to Parliament the party having an absolute majority of votes is ensured of having the parliamentary seats required for governing.
There are a number of alternative solutions available which make it possible for our Parliament to be both gender-balanced and proportional without any increase in its size. These solutions have however been completely discarded as the “reform” brief was always to change as little as possible. Cosmetic change is the order of the day in Gattopardo style: change which leaves everything the same.
Such is the state of our parliament. It needs a complete overhaul, which is long overdue.
published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 February 2022