Constitutional reform: identifying the basic building blocks

Malta’s Constitution should be regarded as a living document: one that reflects our values and aspirations. These, naturally, change over time and it is consequently logical that they are reflected in an up-dated Constitution.

Unfortunately, we have only very rarely had the opportunity to consider updates to our Constitution, except in times of political turmoil. The current endeavours of HE President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca in leading a steering committee to pave the way for a Constitutional Convention is unique in our constitutional history: it is an experiment which should be allowed to mature.

In its present form, Malta’s Constitution is mostly the result of political backroom dealings and compromises over an almost 60-year time-frame – and the results are, at times awkward. Gaps have developed over the years, that are being exploited by those who seek power at all costs.

In order to improve our Constitution, we cannot start afresh. Our point of departure is the baton handed over by our predecessors, warts and all. It is not easy, as there are many vested interests to be overcome – primarily of those who seek to avoid the adoption of constitutional norms which ensure that authority is at all times exercised in a responsible manner.

The invitation by the President to Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party to air its views on constitutional reform at a meeting of the Steering Committee earlier this week was welcome.

AD’s views and proposals on the matter have been in the public domain for quite some time. We need to start at the basic building blocks of democracy. Malta’s electoral legislation needs to change in order to ensure that every vote cast by a Maltese citizen is valued.

Having lived through the political turmoil of the 1980s, I am aware of the difficulties faced in producing a workable solution. The electoral constitutional amendments of 1987 have since been tweaked a couple of times but, however, both the original amendments as well as the improvements made have only served the interests of the PN and the PL. Amendments were always drafted with the specific intention of excluding other political parties from an effective participation in the electoral process and this has to stop.

It is essential to ensure that proportionality between the votes cast and the parliamentary seats elected is not a right reserved for the exclusive perusal of the PN and the PL. This, I submit, is the cause of all the problems faced by our young republic. The deliberate exclusion of alternative voices in Parliament has ensured that Malta’s political engagement has developed into a politics of confrontation, squeezing out the politics of consensus.

This is not all. It is also time to tackle, head on, the issue of gender balance in our parliamentary elections. Humiliating quotas intended to correct results are in my view unacceptable: gender-balanced party lists are the only practical way forward.

In addition to addressing the applicability of proportionality to everything we also require an overhaul of the method of voting. Gender-balanced party lists are used in various European countries specifically to address the gender mismatch in parliamentary representation. Gender balance is not just for man and women: it should also include those who identify themselves with neither of these genders.

A revised Constitution should recognise the fact that, today, the country,  embraces ethical pluralism. Hence, instead of the Constitution being linked to one religious set of beliefs, the Roman Catholic, it should spell out its respect for all religions compatible with the democratic state.

During the meeting with the Constitution Reform Steering Committee, AD emphasised that, unlike in 1964, Malta is now a lay state and this fact should be reflected in the constitutional reform through an abrogation of article 2 of the Constitution. This would reflect the great strides forward made by the Maltese nation as a result of the referendum on divorce, as well as through the introduction and recognition of civil rights for the LGBTIQ community.

Alternattiva Demokratika also discussed the need for the President of the Republic to be elected by an electoral college that is much wider than Parliament. Local Councils should be involved in the election of the President.

Revision of the Constitution should widen the use of the referendum by extending it further to include the introduction of propositive referenda, as a result strengthening the democratic process.

In the coming weeks, Alternattiva Demokratika will be publishing a detailed document containing all of its proposals on Constitutional reform, which will include proposals to strengthen the country’s institutions. Protection of the environment in all its aspects will also feature in such proposals as it is essential that a government that ignores –  or does not give sufficient attention to – the guiding principles in Chapter 2 of the Maltese Constitution should be held accountable.

After five wasted years, the first steps in the process leading to the constitutional convention have at last been taken.

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A Voice for 5,500 votes

5500+ votes

The Green Vote in last week’s general elections increased by 45% over the 2008 polls. Alternattiva Demokratika candidates polled a total of 5,506 votes: a 1.8% share of the national vote.  But these voters have no voice in the newly elected Parliament.

We have heard during the past days of the constitutional mechanisms which restore proportionality in Parliament between votes cast in the general election and the parliamentary strength of the political parties. Malta’s electoral system guarantees proportionality but only for the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party.  Our parliamentary democracy must be based on fairness, and the current state of affairs is anything but fair.

The fact that 5,500 voters chose to be represented by Alternattiva Demokratika is a bold political statement. Every voter has the right to be represented. That is what representative democracy is about. It is useless to emphasise that we should all work together and simultaneously ignore such a statement. The voice of these 5,500 Maltese citizens should be heard loud and clear. They are subject to the same duties and responsibilities as the other voters who are represented. They are subject to the same laws and pay the same taxes.

It is a basic principle of parliamentary democracy that there should be no taxation without representation. This constitutional principle was forcefully made 800 years ago in the Magna Carta  in 1215 when the British monarchy was forced to relinquish part of its absolute powers laying the foundations for the formation of the mother of democratic Parliaments at Westminister. This constitutional principle signifies that Parliament derives its moral and legal authority from its being representative. Being representative gives Parliament its moral authority to legislate. Our Parliament is in fact aptly called the House of Representatives.

AD voters demand that their right to be represented is respected.  This respect can only be manifested if their choices made on the 9th March 2013 are translated into effective representation in the House of Representatives. The House as presently constituted does not represent the 5,500 AD voters as none of the MPs elected are authorised to speak on their behalf.

Throughout the years Parliament has discussed electoral reform many a time. It has tweaked the system through the introduction of constitutional amendments in 1987, 1996 and 2007. The electoral system is certainly much better today than it was in 1981. The amendments then were required but they only addressed the interests of major political parties and their voters. The interests of voters opting for democratic change outside the two party system was conveniently ignored.

The constant message sent by the PN and the PL that change is only possible through the two large parties has been constantly rejected by a small but significant number of voters. We speak of democratic change as ultimately accepting the will of the majority. This however does not include the suffocation of minorities irrespective of their size. But this is what has been done throughout the years.

In Malta’s political history there was a time when both the PN and the PL were small in size and almost insignificant.

The Labour Party was represented in Malta’s Parliament by one solitary MP, Sir Paul Boffa, in the pre-war years. It was a political party organised outside and in opposition to the two-party system. It prevailed throughout the years and proved the power of the ballot to defy the two party system.

Likewise the Nationalist Party was small and insignificant in the post-war years when the Labour Party under the leadership of Sir Paul Boffa achieved the largest electoral landslide (59%) ever registered by a political party in Malta. Yet it was possible for the PN to rise once more from being a party of insignificant size to a major political force.

In view of the above the declarations of Labour MP Evarist Bartolo that AD’s 5,500 voters should be represented in Parliament in a truly democratic system is welcome. Evarist Bartolo has been consistent in his position as he made similar statements in 2008. Unfortunately then, Parliament’s Select Committee entrusted with considering constitutional changes to reinforce democratic governance did not function.

Alternattiva Demokratika also welcomes the statements made by the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that the matter should be addressed.

The changes to the electoral system also require the support of the Nationalist Party which has not expressed itself on the matter, even though a number of its electoral candidates have already expressed their support publicly.

It is time to stand up and be counted. AD has always been available to cooperate and present its proposals as it has done continuously. But voters also demand that AD be respected and its electoral strength duly represented in Parliament. To date those voting AD have had their voice suffocated. We await government’s reactions which will hopefully indicate that it really believes that the will of all voters is respected.

originally published in The Times of Malta on Saturday 16 March 2013

Il-korruzzjoni: meta din tiffinanzja l-kampanja elettorali tal-Ministru

euros-loads-of-money

Il-liġi elettorali tistabilixxi li kandidat għall-elezzjoni ġenerali m’għandux jonfoq iktar minn €1,400 (l-ekwivalenti ta’ Lm600). Dan l-ammont jinkludi dak li jonfqu f’isem il-kandidat il-“ħbieb tiegħu”.

Kemm-il kandidat ser jinjora dan il-limitu fl-elezzjoni tad-9 ta’ Marzu 2013 u qiesu ma ġara xejn?

Il-problema mhiex biss l-ammont minfuq, iżda iktar u iktar minn fejn jiġu dawn il-flejjes. Malajr tifhmu għaliex għal sena wara l-oħra jkollna t’kaxkir tas-saqajn biex ikollna liġi suriet in-nies dwar il-finanzjament tal-politika.

Minn fejn jiġu dawn il-flejjes?

Tweġiba żgħira ħadniha meta Noel Borg Hedley, dak li kien Segretarju Privat ta’ Tonio Fenech, Ministru tal-Finanzi, ammetta fil-Qorti, li kkorrompa ruħu billi aċċetta l-flus biex jinfluwenza proċess amministrattiv. Il-flus tal-korruzzjoni li irċieva mingħand żviluppaturi (l-ahwa Jeffrey u Peter Montebello) għamel użu minnhom fil-kampanja elettorali tal-Ministru Tonio Fenech.

Għal Lawrence Gonzi jidher li qiesu ma ġara xejn meta fil-Qorti saret dikjarazzjoni ċara li l-korruzzjoni iffinanzjat il-kampanja elettorali ta’ wieħed mill-Ministri tiegħu.

Qed ngħid wieħed: għax b’dak nafu.