Reforming a two-party Parliament

Malta’s electoral system has, over the years, been transformed into a duopoly. Discrimination is inbuilt into electoral legislation in order to effectively ensure that Parliament remains a two-party affair. It is discrimination by design. It is not accidental but specifically intended.

Our electoral system (STV: Single Transferable Vote) started off being applied in 1921 as one focused on the individual candidate, generally ignoring the political parties. Over the years a number of important changes shifted the focus of the STV from the individual candidate to the political party.

The first such change was carried out prior to the 1976 general elections: the electoral ballot paper was then redesigned such that same party candidates started being grouped together with a colour code identifying the different political parties. This was a radical change as up to that point, for over fifty years, all candidates in an electoral district were listed alphabetically. Up till that point it was a common occurrence for votes to switch from one party to the other in successive counts as the semi-literate voter, would not always distinguish between one party candidate and the candidates from other parties. As a result, many a parliamentary seat was lost or switched allegiance over the years.

The second change took place in 1987 and was fine-tuned in subsequent years. It started off as a reaction to the impact of jerrymandering of electoral districts, specifically the 1981 general election result. Originally it was designed as a constitutional guarantee for majority rule, ensuring that whichever political party surpassed the 50 per cent vote count it would be guaranteed a majority of parliamentary seats. Subsequently it was developed into a formula for ensuring proportionality between first count votes and parliamentary seats. There is however an important condition attached: this is only applicable if just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third one gains just one seat, no proportionality is guaranteed, except in one specific instant: when a political party obtains in excess of the 50 per cent mark it is still guaranteed a majority of Parliamentary seats. Our Constitution expects that the rest have to lump it.

The third change is in the pipeline. It involves an additional adjustment: a gender balance mechanism. A maximum of twelve parliamentary seats will be added to the total to represent the under-represented gender! Yes, you have guessed: they will be split equally between the duopoly. In addition, the seats will not be available for distribution the moment a third political party makes it into parliament.

Let me be very clear. Proportionality between votes cast and parliamentary seats won is essential. Likewise, it is essential to address the gender imbalance in our parliament. However, both adjustments can be done fairly, without any discrimination, and importantly without increasing the size of Parliament astronomically as will inevitably happen at the next general election if only two political parties make it to Parliament. In fact, it is perfectly possible not to have any increase in size of Parliament at all if the appropriate changes are carried out!

Over the years the political party which I lead has made several proposals on these matters. The latest proposal was made in the context of the public consultation on addressing gender imbalance in Parliament. Even then we emphasised that tinkering with the electoral system and adding top-ups would not solve anything. A complete overhaul of the system is required. Instead, the “gender balance reform” ended up advocating “as little as possible disruption of the electoral system”. Government and Opposition agreed to reinforce the existing discrimination in our electoral system.

Unfortunately, our proposals have been ignored once more and we have no choice but to resort to our Courts to address a blatantly discriminatory electoral system imposed on us by Labour and Nationalist Members of Parliament. On such matters they always agree.

In such circumstances fragmentation of the political spectrum is the worst possible option for those who want to emphasise a specific point. Those who end up playing the “independent” are pawns of the duopoly, unwittingly reinforcing the two-party system. They end up siphoning votes and thereby deliberately weakening a potential third voice which can make it to Parliament. The merger between AD and PD in the past months is the appropriate antidote in such circumstances.

Instead of focusing on minor differences it would be appropriate if all of us give more weight to the overall picture. It is an uphill struggle, but we should not be deterred!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 30 May 2021

Thirteen elections, two electoral systems



This Sunday morning, the news will be dominated by the counting process at Naxxar. During the night, until approximately 10.00am this morning, all ballot boxes will be opened and a reconciliation of the votes actually cast is made. The actual counting is scheduled to commence at 10am.

Depending on the difference in votes between the large parties, we may have the first forecast of the result within 30 minutes. However, if the difference is minimal, as was the case in 2008, it will take much longer for accurate forecasts to be made:  it may well be in the early afternoon.

In actual fact, we have in play two different electoral systems, running concurrently on the basis of different rules.

The first electoral system is the Single Transferable Vote system, which is applicable in each and every one of the 13 electoral districts. In fact, we speak of general elections, as in reality we have 13 different and independent elections running in parallel in the various electoral districts. The Single Transferable Vote system is exclusively dependent on the electors’ choices in the last count.

The second electoral system will begin when the counting process in all 13 districts has been completed and seeks to introduce a correlation between the accumulated final count result with the accumulated first count in the electoral districts. As is well known, a correction factor is thereafter applied to remove any discrepancies between the first count and the final count and consequently restore proportionality according to the first count.

This correction of discrepancies is, however, carried out in only two circumstances: namely if a political party surpasses the 50 per cent threshold, and also if only two political parties are elected to Parliament.  In more than two political parties are elected, and none of them exceeds the 50 per cent threshold, then the correction of proportionality discrepancies is simply ignored.

The existence of two parallel electoral systems has its roots in gerrymandering carried out, as a result of which electoral boundaries are periodically tweaked to favour one or the other of the major parties. The most notable cases of such gerrymandering having been carried out prior to the 1971 and the 1981 general elections.

The 1971 gerrymandering exercise did not materialise for just five votes while, as we all know, the 1981 one was successful in that it returned a Labour Government with a three-seat majority when it should have returned a PN government with a one seat majority.

The 1987 Constitutional amendments negotiated by Dom Mintoff and Guido de Marco established a simple and rudimentary majority rule principle. This was subsequently tweaked with additional constitutional amendments in 1996 and 2007, as a result of which the applicability of the proportionality rules were extended to apply where there only exists a relative majority of votes at first count stage. 

The Constitutional rules makes one basic assumption: that only two parliamentary political parties exist and in fact the 2007 amendments extended the applicability of the adjustment mechanism to both parties.

The physical counting of votes will be carried out under the watchful eyes of representatives of all political parties and the candidates themselves.

Human error, and maybe more, contributes to a number of mistakes during the counting process. Some are generally identified and corrected immediately. Others pass by un-noticed, nobody being aware of their potential impact. During the 2013 General Elections count – as a result of an obvious lack of attention of the party representatives – two such mistakes cost the PN two Parliamentary seats, only for the Constitutional Court to decide on the matter 44 months later.

Given these mistakes in 2013, in all probability the atmosphere in the counting hall will be more tense than usual, with the PN and PL representatives competing over who has the best scrutinising skills.

To the many predictions that have already been made as to the possible results I will certainly not add mine. One thing is however certain: this Sunday will be a very long day.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 4 June 2017 


Il-vot fuq l-aħdar : 4. L-użu tal-Vot


Il-vot għandu saħħa kbira. Iżda sfortunatament mhux kulħadd jaf jagħmel użu tajjeb minnu.

F’sistema bi-polari bħal tagħna l-partiti l-kbar draw iħeġġu lill-votanti jivvutaw fuq il-kulur tagħhom u jieqfu hemm. Jibżgħu jgħidu iktar.

Ir-realta anke jekk tagħti appoġġ lil xi partit (hu liema hu) tista’ wara li tkun ivvutajt lill-kandidati tal-partit li tappoġġa tivvota b’mod strateġiku lil dawk mill-kandidati l-oħra li “l-inqas idejquk”.

B’dan il-mod il-vot tiegħek jekk ma jkunx hemm użu iktar għalih għax il-kandidati kollha tal-partit tiegħek ikun ġew eletti jew eliminati inti tkun tista’ tagħżel bejn il-kandidati tal-partiti li jkunu għadhom fit-tiġrija.

Fl-elezzjoni tal-Parlament Ewropew għall-2004 meta sfat eliminata Joanna Drake il-parti l-kbira tal-voti tagħha waqgħu fuq David Casa tal-PN ukoll. S’hemmhekk xejn speċjali.

Imma Casa bil-voti li wiret mingħand Drake qabeż il-kwota sew u allura kellu jittrasferixxi l-voti żejda skond ix-xewqa tal-votanti, fejn dawn esprimew xewqa. Dakinnhar il-votanti tal-PN kellhom il-possibilita li wara li vvutaw lill-kandidati kollha tal-PN jagħżlu bejn Arnold Cassola u Louis Grech. Il-parti l-kbira m’għażlu lil ħadd.  B’hekk il-votanti nazzjonalisti fl-2004 effettivament  ippreferew lil Louis Grech flok lil Arnold Cassola. Setgħu jagħżlu mod ieħor iżda dan ma għamluhx.

F’Ġunju 2009, fuq skala ferm iżgħar, fl-elezzjoni tal-Kunsill Lokali tal-Għarb il-votanti Laburisti ukoll setgħu għażlu  bejn Victor Galea ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika u Carmen Vella tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Meta ġie eliminat Kevin Cassar tal-Partit Laburista l-parti l-kbira tal-voti tiegħu intirtu minn Emanuel Muscat tal-PL ukoll. Bil-voti li wiret Emanuel Muscat (PL) li kien l–aħħar kandidat tal-PL huwa qabeż il-kwota. Il-voti żejda tiegħu li kienu jammontaw għal 26 setgħu jiddeċiedu min kellu jiġi elett bejn Victor Galea (AD) u Carmen Vella (PL). 7 voti marru fuq Victor Galea. 2 voti marru fuq Carmen Vella. 17-il vot ma għażlu lil ħadd. Il-konsegwenza li ġiet eletta Carmen Vella b’differenza ta’ 5 voti. Id-deċiżjoni ħaduha mhux dawk li ivvutaw, iżda dawk li ddeċidew li ma jagħżlu lil ħadd.

Żgur li ma nistax niddeskrivi l-voti li ġieb Victor Galea fl-Għarb bħala diżastru. Kważi wasal. Imma ma wasalx għal ftit. A miss is as good as a mile !

Mingħajr ma nnaqqas mill-merti tal-kandidata li ġiet eletta, li l-anqas biss naf min hi, ngħid li tilfu n-nies tal-Għarb għax tilfu s-servizz ta’ kunsillier eċċezzjonali.

(ikompli għada  5. Alternattiva hi meħtieġa)

Lejn Proporzjonalita stretta




Wara r-riżultat ta’ l-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali li saret il-ġimgħa l-oħra reġa’ beda jingħad li hemm ħtieġa ta’ riforma elettorali.

Għaliex ?

Għax kien hemm il-periklu li min ikollu l-inqas voti jmexxi l-Gvern. Tafu għaliex inħoloq dan il-periklu ? Għax meta saru l-aħħar emendi kostituzzjonali dwar il-proċess elettorali kemm il-PN kif ukoll l-MLP kienu moħħhom biss fihom infushom. Ma qagħdux attenti biex jasiguraw illi l-vot ta’ kulħadd ikollu l-istess piż.

Fil-fatt ftehmu kif “huma” jkunu assigurati li l-voti li jkollhom ikunu riflessi fir-rappreżentanza parlamentari tagħhom. Imma l-ftehim illimitawh biss għal meta jkun hemm żewġ partiti fl-Parlament. Jiġifieri għalihom biss.

Injoraw kull ċirkustanza oħra. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan it-3810 vot li kisbet l-Alternattiva Demokratika (kwota sħiħa mifruxa ma Malta kollha) m’humiex rappreżentati fil-Parlament.

Riżultat ġust u demokratiku f’din l-elezzjoni kien jagħti 34 siġġu lill-PN, 34 siġġu lill-MLP u siġġu wieħed lill-Alternattiva Demokratika.  Jiġifieri waħda mill-4 co-options li saru kellha tkun favur l-Alternattiva Demokratika mhux favur il-PN : kellu jkun co-opted Harry Vassallo flok Francis Zammit Dimech ! B’hekk il-kwota sħiħa tal-Alternattiva Demokratika kienet tkun rapprezentata fil-Parlament ukoll. Kull vot kien ikollu valur.

Li dan ma sarx huwa minħabba l-emendi li saru fi tmiem is-sena l-oħra bl-approvazzjoni kemm tal-PN kif ukoll tal-MLP. L-emendu kostituzzjonali kellhom approvazzjoni unanima u allura kemm l-PN kif ukoll l-MLP jridu jerfgħu l-piż politiku għalihom. Ħadd ma jista’ jwaħħal f’ħadd.

Hemm bżonn li r-riżultat elettorali jkun wieħed rifless fi proporzjonalita stretta fil-Parlament. B’hekk biss jista’ jkun hemm riżultat ġust.