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

Ma’ Reno Bugeja: lil hinn mill-bebbux

Reno ġurnalista b’esperjenza li għandi kull rispett lejh. Ikun ippreparat sewwa biex ikun jista’ jindirizza l-argument quddiemu.

L-intervista kienet iffukata fuq l-ADPD u l-futur tiegħu. X’inhi r-raġuni għall-fatt li minkejja dawn is-snin kollha għadna partit żgħir?

Tul l-intervista Reno, b’sengħa, kontinwament ipprovokani biex joħroġ l-argumenti u l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħi.

Il-ħin ma taraħx għaddej għax l-argumenti jintiżġu flimkien b’ħeffa kbira b’mod li sat-tmiem jidher quddiemek mużajk ta’ argumenti li jagħti stampa ċara.

Id-diffikultajiet li niffaċċjaw huma essenzjalment tnejn.

L-ewwel hemm sistema elettorali li tul is-snin fittxet dejjem li tikkonsolida l-ħakma ta’ żewġ partiti fuq il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet tiegħu.

It-tieni hemm il-frammentazzjoni. Dawk li jaħsbuha bħalna huma mifruxa. Tul is-snin dejjem kien hemm diffikulta biex ninġabru flimkien. L-għaqda bejn l-Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku f’dan is-sens kien pass kbir il-quddiem. Ovvjament hemm ħafna iktar xi jsir biex l-ilħna progressivi jinġabru flimkien.

L-intervista serviet biex nispjega ukoll il-kuntrast politiku tagħna ma dak tal-partiti l-oħra.

Tkellimt ftit dwar l-ambjent. Emfasizzajt li l-ambjent għalina jmur lil hinn mill-apprezzament tal-bebbux, id-dud u l-fjuri. L-apprezzament u l-ħarsien tal-ekoloġija huwa importanti ħafna f’ħidmietna. Imma l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ifisser ukoll il-ħarsien u t-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, tagħna u tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna.

Tkellimna fit-tul, madwar 40 minuta.

Issibu l-ħsibijiet dwar kif il-pajjiż qed isir dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Nafferma għal darba oħra li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza mhiex aċċettabbli għalina. Hi prostituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Hemm ukoll kummenti dwar l-abort u kif dan fil-prattika diġa qed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei.

Il-ħidma politika tagħna tkompli. Pass pass nimxu l-quddiem.

Constitutional top-ups: a democratic deficit

Earlier this week Parliament started discussing Bill 119, proposing constitutional amendments “to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics”.  A very noble aim which all progressive politicians share. Unfortunately, in addressing the issue of equality between men and women in politics Bill 119 creates another problem: it goes about it in a discriminatory fashion. It discriminates against third parties through excluding them almost completely.

Bill 119 aims to top-up the number of elected members of parliament by a total of not more than twelve additional MPs through a process identifying unelected electoral candidates from the minority gender when the general electoral process has been concluded. The minority gender being that which has a representation below 40 per cent of the total number of elected MPs.

Clause 3 of the Bill starts immediately on the wrong foot. It lays down that the provisions of the gender top-up based constitutional amendments under consideration are only applicable in general elections “in which only candidates of two parties are elected”.

This wording is a cut-and-paste from another Constitutional top-up which was introduced in 1987 and fine-tuned throughout the years through a number of constitutional amendments relating to proportionality. Even then the constitutional solution was based on a basic discriminatory premise that it is only applicable if candidates of two political parties are elected to Parliament.

It is proposed by Bill 119 that the additional MPs “are to be apportioned equally by the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”.

As has been emphasised many times, the proportionality Constitutional top-up, while ensuring majority rule, has created a democratic deficit in our Constitution in view of the fact that it is generally not operative when more than two political parties make it to Parliament. The gender balance top-up, faithfully follows in its footsteps. An existing democratic deficit is being made even worse.

The day when a third party makes it to Parliament on its own steam is fast-approaching. When that day comes, and it may be close, a Constitutional crisis may arise due to myopic legal drafting. This basic (intentional) error has been repeated in the Constitutional amendments under consideration by Parliament at this point in time.

I was surprised when I noted that during the Parliamentary debate, earlier this week, Opposition MP Herman Schiavone gave notice of amendments to address the gender top-up Bill. His proposals are an excellent first step but, in my view, they are not enough as they do not address all the possibilities that may arise when eventually the provision is to be applied. The matter can be explored further when the actual amendments are debated, at which point possible solutions can be explored.

The matter was also emphasised in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, possibly indicating that the PN has now changed strategy and has thrown away its previous policy of trying to cannibalise third parties which have the potential to make it to Parliament. A cannibalisation exercise which has been heavily resisted by the Maltese Greens throughout the years.

When the proposal for the gender Constitutional top-ups was published for public consultation, the Maltese Greens had participated and published a document outlining possible alternatives. One cannot keep patching up our electoral system. A fresh holistic revision is needed which will address both the proportionality and the gender representation issues. A possible solution exists through the use of party electoral lists which need be gender balanced. This is already done in various other countries.

We did not receive any reaction to our proposal. The Commission entrusted with examining the matter did not seek to meet us to explore alternative potential solutions. Unfortunately, the Commission too was trapped in a two-party frame of mind and consequently it concluded its exercise by adopting a solution which further reinforces the existing democratic deficit in the Constitution.

The setting up of such obstructions make our life more difficult as it increases unnecessary and artificial obstacles which seek to complicate the political work of third parties. This is not just unfortunate: it lays bare the “democratic credentials” of government and its advisors.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 January 2021

Lessons from Ireland : cross party voting

Following the counting process of the Irish General Election was a pleasant experience. Ireland too, like Malta, makes use of the Single Transferable vote.

Once more, the Irish voter made an intelligent use of his/her vote and elected a Parliament with a plurality of political parties as well as independents. When the counting process was concluded 8 different political parties and 19 independents were represented in the Irish parliament: the Dáil.

In order to arrive at this result the Irish voter was very selective as to the manner of voting. The choices made, not just at first count stage, but, more importantly at subsequent counts, indicates the mind frame of the Irish voter in switching his/her vote from one party to the other whenever there was a need for a vote to be transferred.

This cross-party voting ensures that every vote cast is valued in the order of priority established by the voter himself. This is an advantage of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) which the average Maltese voter, so far, does not use adequately.

Even without changes to the electoral system to apply the proportionality rule to all political parties, the STV makes it possible to return a plurality of voices to Malta’s Parliament if the voter does use the powerful tools at hand.

Il-Kostituzzjoni tagħna: ir-riforma meħtieġa

Hawn min iqis li l-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta hi tajba kif inhi u li għaldaqstant, jaħseb, li ma hemm l-ebda ħtieġa li nduruha dawra sew. Kien ikun sewwa kieku din kienet is-sitwazzjoni. Imma sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk. Il-kostituzzjoni teħtieġ ferm iktar minn ftit irtokki ‘l hawn u ‘l-hemm.

lkoll nafu li l-kostituzzjoni ma titħaddimx biss minn persuni ta’ rieda tajba. Nistgħu ngħidu li xi minn daqqiet din ir-rieda tajba tkun ftit skarsa f’dawk li jmexxu u f’dawk li niddependu fuqhom għat-tħaddim tal-kostituzzjoni. Xi drabi dawn ifittxu t-toqob minn fejn jgħaddu u b’hekk jagħmlu ħilithom biex jevitaw milli jwettqu dmirhom.

Ilkoll nixtiequ li dan ma kienx hekk, imma l-esperjenzi tagħna lkoll, kontinwament, juru mod ieħor. Huma esperjenzi li l-ħin kollu juru li hemm ħtieġa illi l-kostituzzjoni tkun ħafna iktar ċara milli hi illum biex tilqa’ iktar għall-kontra l-abbużi u tonqos il-possibilità tal-misinterpretazzjoni tagħha.

Malta qed tinbidel u jeħtieġ li l-kostituzzjoni tagħna tirrifletti din il-bidla. Hu meħtieġ li l-Kostituzzjoni illum tirrifletti l-valuri ta’ Malta tas-seklu 21.

Tul is-snin, Alternattiva Demokratika tkellmet dwar diversi aspetti tal-kostituzzjoni li jeħtieġ li jkunu ikkunsidrati mill-ġdid, inkella li hemm bżonn li jiżdiedu ma’ dak li tipprovdi għalihom il-kostituzzjoni attwali. Dan jeħtieġ li jsir mhux biss fid-dawl tal-esperjenzi tal-pajjiż tul is-snin imma ukoll għax il-pajjiż għaddej minn metamorfosi kontinwa.

Ewlenija fost dawn l-esperjenzi hemm ir-rwol sekondarju li fih, tul is-snin, ġie mqiegħed il-Parlament fil-konfront tal-Kabinett. Ma’ dan trid iżżid ukoll id-drawwa tal-Parlament li kontinwament jgħaddi poteri sostanzjali lill-Kabinett kif ukoll lill-Ministri individwali mingħajr l-iċken sorveljanza inkella b’sorveljanza irriżorja. Hemm ukoll il-korpi regolatorji li l-persuni li jmexxuhom mhux biss jinħatru, ġeneralment, mingħajr referenza lill-Parlament, imma li wkoll, b’mod konsistenti, ftit li xejn isir skrutinju tagħhom, la qabel ma jinħatru u wisq inqas wara.

Din kienet is-sitwazzjoni sal-emendi riċenti għall-Att dwar l-Amministrazzjoni Pubblika liema emendi ħolqu l-Kumitat Permanenti dwar il-Ħatriet Pubbliċi biex ikunu skrutinati mill-Parlament xi ħatriet politiċi li jsiru minn żmien għal żmien. Minn dak li rajna s’issa, l-iskrutinju li qiegħed isir hu wieħed superfiċjali ħafna, lil hinn minn dak li hu mistenni.

Ir-rapport riċenti tal-Kummissjoni Venezja tal-Kunsill tal-Ewropa, li jiffoka fuq is-saltna tad-dritt, l-indipendenza tal-ġudikatura u tal-korpi bl-inkarigu li jinfurzaw il-liġi, jiftaħ id-diskussjoni beraħ dwar kif għandhom isiru dawn il-ħatriet u dwar jekk il-Gvern u/jew il-Parlament għandux fil-fatt ikollhom xi rwol f’dan il-proċess.

Fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika mhux aċċettabbli li l-Parlament jibqa’ jagħti blank cheque lill-Kabinett, lill-Ministri u lill-awtoritajiet regolatorji. Il-Parlament għandu jżomm il-kontroll effettiv f’idejh: huwa l-Parlament li għandu jmexxi u mhux il-Kabinett għax, kif iħobbu jfakkruna wħud ta’ kulltant, il-Parlament hu l-ogħla istituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Mill-Indipendenza l-pajjiż dejjem tmexxa mill-Kabinett li kontinwament ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Parlament, li, għall-formalità, bi ftit eċċezzjonijiet, approva dawn l-istruzzjonijiet u mexa magħhom.

Dan ovvjament kien possibli minħabba l-polarizzazzjoni tal-pajjiż f’żewġ sferi politiċi li ttrasformaw dak li fuq il-karta hi demokrazija parlamentari f’sistema ta’ ċentraliżmu demokratiku, immexxija mill-Kabinett.

Spiċċajna biex flok il-Kabinett hu qaddej tal-Parlament l-affarijiet huma kważi kompletament bil-maqlub.

Din, fil-fehma ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika, hi waħda mir-raġunijiet ewlenin għaliex kontinwament hemm resistenza għal sistema elettorali aħjar li tagħti spażju lill-ilħna oħrajn, lil hinn mill-ilħna tradizzjonali.

Għax l-effett prattiku tad-dħul ta’ partiti politiċi addizzjonali fil-Parlament, eventwalment, ikun ifisser rifondazzjoni tad-demokrazija parlamentari bid-deċiżjonijiet jittieħdu fil-Parlament stess u l-Kabinett ikun relegat għal postu: jirrapporta lill-Parlament, jieħu l-istruzzjonijiet mingħandu u jwettaqhom!

Fi ftit kliem, dan ifisser il-ħtieġa li jkun hemm separazzjoni effettiva bejn l-eżekuttiv u l-leġislattiv, punt fundamentali meta qed nitħaddtu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ demokrazija parlamentari. Din is-separazzjoni illum teżisti fuq il-karta biss.

Il-Kostituzzjoni teħtieġ li tirrifletti ukoll il-ħtieġa għal trasparenza u l-kontabilità. Dan hu meħtieġ mhux biss min-naħa tal-politiċi imma wkoll mingħand dawk kollha li jirċievu kwalunkwe delega ta’ xi forma ta’ awtorità eżekuttiva, anke l-iżjed waħda ċkejkna.

Ma’ dan kollu trid iżżid is-sistema elettorali, li teħtieġ tibdil sostanzjali. Dan hu meħtieġ prinċipalment minħabba li r-regoli kostituzzjonali dwar il-proporzjonalità huma limitati u diskriminatorji fl-applikazzjoni tagħhom.

Dawn japplikaw biss f’sitwazzjoni fejn fil-Parlament ikun hemm żewġ partiti politiċi u u allura, b’mod prattiku, japplikaw favur il-Partit Laburista u l-Partit Nazzjonalista, li fassluhom favur tagħhom.

Imma l-proċess elettorali jeħtieġ li jkun eżaminat mill-ġdid ukoll, għax illum, iktar minn qatt qabel, hawn il-ħtieġa ta’ intervent leġislattiv biex ikun indirizzat in-nuqqas tal-presenza adegwata tal-ġeneri differenti fil-fora politiċi Maltin, ewlieni fosthom fil-Parlament Malti.

Pajjiżna qed jinbidel kontinwament. Kultant din il-bidla isseħħ b’ritmu kajman. Drabi oħra din issir b’għaġġla kbira, kif qed iseħħ fil-mument. Huma bidliet li l-poplu Malti qed iħaddan kontinwament.

Bidliet li żdiedu fir-ritmu hekk kif Malta issieħbet fl-Unjoni Ewropea u bdiet dieħla fis-seklu wieħed u għoxrin, u b’mod iktar qawwi minn meta seħħ l-approvazzjoni tar-referendum dwar id-divorzju fl-2011.

Malta tal-lum hi differenti minn Malta tal-1964. F’numru ta’ aspetti hi wkoll Malta aħjar. Hi Malta li mxiet ‘il-quddiem u addattat ruħha ġeneralment b’suċċess għal dak li seħħ madwarha. F’dan il-proċess mifrux fuq kważi 60 sena, minn stat prattikament konfessjonali Malta żviluppat fi stat lajk b’koeżistenza ta’ valuri li jikkuntrastaw.

F’Malta illum isaltan pluraliżmu etiku. Hija din il-pluralità ta’ valuri ta’ Malta tal-lum li għandna nżommu quddiem għajnejna aħna u niddibattu dwar x’forma għandu jkollha kostituzzjoni emendata jew mibdula fil-ġimgħat u fix-xhur li ġejjin.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Novembru 2019

Our Constitution: the reform ahead

Some may consider that Malta’s Constitution is fine in its present state but, unfortunately, much more than a couple of tweaks are required. We are all aware that constitutional mechanics are not only subject to the workings of people of good faith: some excel in seeking the most devious of ways to justify the avoidance of their Constitutional responsibilities.

Most of us wish that this was not the case but, unfortunately, it is the reality. Experience has taught us that a number of our Constitutional provisions need to be clearer to be able to withstand abuse and misinterpretation. Malta is in a continuous state of change, which must be reflected in our Constitution. The Constitution should be a reflection of today’s values: it should reflect a 21st century Malta.

Over the years, Maltese Greens have spoken up on various aspects of the existing Constitution which need revisiting or new elements that need to be introduced. This is essential – not only in order to apply the lessons learnt from our experiences but also to reflect the continuous metamorphosis through which the country is going.

Topping the list of considerations is the need to address the secondary role in which Parliament has been placed over the years with the Cabinet, effectively, taking over. In this context, it is very relevant to focus on Parliament’s handing over substantial responsibilities to the Cabinet or directly to individual Ministers without the minimum oversight. This also applies to regulatory bodies or institutions which are generally appointed and entrusted with substantial responsibilities without even a basic referral to Parliament.

This situation prevailed up until the recent amendments to the Public Administration Act, which created a Parliamentary Permanent Committee to examine political appointments in the public service. From what has been seen so far, the operations of this Committee leave much to be desired.

The recent report of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which has a focus on the state of play of the rule of law in Malta, judicial independence – as well as the autonomy of those entrusted to enforce the law – encourages debating reconsideration of the manner in which these appointments are made and whether, and to what extent, the Government and/or Parliament have any role to play in the process.

It is not acceptable in this day and age that Parliament hands over a number of blank cheques to the Cabinet, Ministers and regulatory bodies. Parliament should retain ultimate oversight and control, currently a function usurped by the Cabinet. Since 1964, the Cabinet has always taken the lead – issuing ‘instructions’ to Parliament, which has generally rubber-stamped these instructions and followed them through.

This has been made possible by the prevalent intensive political polarisation that has transformed what – on paper – is a parliamentary democracy to one where democratic centralism, led by Cabinet, prevails. We have ended up with Parliament serving the Cabinet, when it should be the other way around. In my view, this is one of the basic reasons for the continuous resistance to the reform of the electoral system which would give adequate democratic space to political formations outside the traditional ones. The practical impact of the entry of new political parties into Parliament would be a re-foundation of parliamentary democracy, with Parliament standing on its own two feet and issuing instructions to Cabinet, not the other way around. This would signify an effective separation of executive and legislative powers: a fundamental issue in the Constitution of any parliamentary democracy and one which, so far in Malta, exists only on paper.

Our Constitution needs to reflect the basic need for transparency and accountability. This should be applicable not just to those elected to political office but also to those having a delegated authority on any matter, however small.

The electoral system requires substantial change. This is primarily due to the fact that the constitutional rules on proportionality are defective and discriminatory. They only apply in a Parliament composed of two political parties: in practice they thus apply only in favour of the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party who designed them to suit their needs. The electoral process also needs revisiting to address the gender imbalance in our parliamentary representation.

Malta is continuously changing. This change is proceeding at a varying rate that has been accelerating since we joined the European Union, but more so since the positive divorce referendum of 2011.

Malta in the 21st century is substantially different to the Malta of 1964. In many aspects it is also a better Malta that has generally successfully adapted to change. In this context, in a 60-year timeframe Malta has developed from a confessional state to a lay one with the co-existence of contrasting values.

In Malta today one can speak of ethical pluralism and it is this plurality of values of today’s Malta that should be the basic foundation stone of the constitutional reform process on which we will be embarking in the coming weeks and months.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 10 November 2019

Constitutional Convention: upsetting the apple-cart


A Constitutional Convention is long overdue. It has been on the public agenda for years.

Over the years, Malta’s Constitution has been patched up several times in order to resolve political issues arising at that particular point in time. It is about time that the Constitution is considered in its entirety in order to ensure that it serves the needs of the nation now and in the foreseeable future. An overhaul would certainly be in order.

One major issue which, in my view, needs to be addressed is the curtailing of the executive’s power over the composition, set-up and running of authorities and institutions so that these can begin functioning properly. Rather than the executive ceding power, as Minister Owen Bonnici stated recently when piloting the debate on the Bill that seeks to introduce limited screening of public appointments, it means that Parliament should rediscover its proper functions and claim back its authority.

This is the basic flaw in Malta’s Constitutional set-up. Malta is described as a Parliamentary democracy and, on paper, Parliament does have the power to decide but, over the years it has been reluctant to upset the current balance of power that favours Cabinet over Parliament. Unless and until there is a will to address this, no headway can be made and any proposed changes will necessarily be cosmetic in nature.

Currently, the focus of public debate is on the functioning of the institutions of the state. This debate has been going on for some time but has gathered steam as a result of the obvious inertia observed over many years. The principal issue is the manner in which major public appointments are made.

Unfortunately the public debate is sometimes derailed. The debate on the Attorney General’s office, for example, should rather be on the functions of the office than on Dr. Peter Grech, the current incumbent. In particular, Parliament should examine whether the multitude of responsibilities added to the office of the Attorney General over the years have diluted its Constitutional responsibilities. One detailed proposal on the hiving off of responsibility for public prosecutions was made in the Vanni Bonello-led Justice Reform Commission, many moons ago. So far, no action has been taken.

I think that by now it is clear to all that Parliament, on its own, will not deliver on the reform required because such reform, if properly carried out, will upset the manner in which political power is exercised in these islands.

The basic Constitutional set-up underpinning the 1964 Constitution, notwithstanding the multitude of changes carried out throughout the years – including the 1974 change from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Republic – is still substantially in place. On Independence, in 1964, most of the powers of the British sovereign, then exercised through the Governor, were handed over to the Prime Minister, subject to the theoretical oversight of Parliament. For over 50 years, Parliament has been reluctant to upset the apple-cart and no Prime Minister has ever had the courage to propose the curtailment of his own powers and handing them over completely to Parliament, which is where they belong in a Parliamentary democracy. Nor has Parliament ever taken the initiative: its composition prevents it from acting in such a manner.

The current large size of the Cabinet, coupled with the nomination of backbench MPs on the government side to various posts and sinecures, is a clear declaration of intent. Keeping backbench MPs happy and occupied reduce the likelihood of them asking too many questions. This has been going on for some time: in fact the Gonzi administration acted in a manner very similar to the current administration in this respect.

This, in my view, is the crux of the whole issue which Parliament cannot and will not resolve on its own. It needs a vibrant civil society (not a fake one represented by a couple of non-entities) which can prod and guide it until it embarks on the path where real political power is channelled back to where it really belongs. This is the real reason why electoral reform has always been left on the back burner, as it is only through fair electoral reform that results in a different Parliamentary format whereby Parliament can start to think outside the box in which it is currently restrained.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 November 2017

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 


Is-sistema elettorali tagħna

 general election 2013.counting


Reġa’ beda l-argument ta’ dawk li jaħsbu li l-Partit Nazzjonalista hu l-uniku alternattiva għall-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern. Għal dawn, l-eżistenza ta’ iktar minn żewġ partiti politiċi hi ħela u l-kawża ta’ frammentazzjoni tal-voti. Jiġifieri, dawn isostnu li minħabba f’hekk, il-voti f’elezzjoni ġenerali jinfirxu għalxejn.

Jippretendu li hemm xi obbligu li jekk ma tridx lil Joseph għandek tivvota lil Simon, u jekk ma tridx lil Simon għandek tivvota lil Joseph. Ma jirrealizzawx li għal numru ta’ votanti, la Joseph u l-anqas Simon [u l-partiti tagħhom] ma huma għażla li tixraq li dan il-pajjiz.

Is-sistema elettorali tagħna sarilha diversi tibdil fiha tul iż-żmien. Tibdil intenzjonat bħala rimedju kontra t-tbagħbis tad-distretti. Minkejja d-difetti fit-tibdil li sar (proporzjonalità riżervata għal żewġ partiti biss, pero mhux dejjem), is-sistema elettorali xorta għadha waħda magħmula apposta biex ikunu inkoraġġiti ħafna partiti. Ma hemm bżonn l-ebda tibdil fil-liġijiet elettorali biex fil-Parlament ikollna tlieta, erbgħa jew ħames partiti, kif fil-fatt, wara kollox kellna fis-snin 60. Jiddependi biss mill-volontà tal-elettorat biex bis-sistema elettorali ta’ vot singlu trasferibbli jkollna Parlament b’iktar minn żewġ partiti.

Is-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti kienet għażla tal-votanti li, meta jridu, jistgħu jerġgħu iwarrbuha kif fil-fatt għamlu diversi drabi tul is-snin.

Riċentment, fi Frar 2016, fl-Irlanda, li għandha sistema elettorali li hi sostanzjalment bħal tagħna, ġie elett Parlament li mhux biss fih tmien partiti politiċi imma ukoll numru ta’ membri parlamentari indipendenti (19-il wieħed).  Dan isir minħabba li l-votanti Irlandiżi, b’responsabbiltà kbira, wara li jagħtu l-ewwel preferenzi lill-kandidati tal-partit li jappoġġaw ikomplu l-vot tagħhom fuq kandidati ta’ partiti oħra jew fuq kandidati indipendenti. F’Malta ftit wisq huma dawk li jivvutaw b’dan il-mod, peró dan mhux bil-fors li jibqa’ hekk.

Dan kollu qed ngħidu minħabba kitbiet fi tmiem il-ġimgħa ta’ min jidhirlu illi jekk ma taqbilx ma Joseph għandek bil-fors tappoġġa lil Simon. Tista’ ma tappoġġa lil ħadd minnhom. Is-sistema elettorali tagħna dan tippermettilek li tagħmlu u jekk ikun hemm biżżejjed votanti li jaħsbuha bħalek l-għażla tiegħek tista’ tkun rappreżentata fil-Parlament. Jekk ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed min jaħsibha bħalek, il-vot tiegħek jgħaddi għal fuq il-preferenza li jmiss, preferenza magħżula minnek stess.

Tħallix lil min iqarraq bik kif forsi għamlu f’elezzjonijiet oħra. Ħadd m’għandu jwarrab biex jagħmel il-wisa’ la għal Joseph u l-anqas għal Simon. Hemm wisa’ għal kulħadd.

Bejn prinċipji u strateġija

 Jeremy Corbyn PMQT


L-elezzjoni ta’ Jeremy Corbyn bħala mexxej tal-Partit Laburista Ingliż heżżet mill-qiegħ il-politika Inġliża. Ħolqot ukoll dibattitu dwar kemm jagħmel sens għal-laburiżmu Inġliż li jagħti iktar każ tal-egħruq tiegħu ħafna iktar milli għamel sal-lum.

F’nofs il-kampanja għall-mexxej laburista, seħħ fatt li kellu impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-kampanja. Il-Gvern Ingliż ressaq għad-diskussjoni fil-House of Commons liġi dwar is-serviżżi soċjali imsejħa l-Welfare Bill.   L-aġent mexxej tal-Laburisti Ingliżi, Harriet Harman, tat direttiva lill-grupp parlamentari biex jastjeni meta issr il-votazzjoni fl-istadju tat-tieni qari. L-abbozz ta’ liġi hi parti minn strateġija tal-Gvern konservattiv Ingliż biex jibda jżarma l-welfare state. Il-partit laburista Ingliż ħassu f’morsa.

Imma 48 mill-Membri Parlamentari Laburisti sfidaw id-direttiva tal-Partit tagħhom u xorta ivvutaw kontra. Fosthom kien hemm Jeremy Corbyn, l-unika wieħed mill-erba’ kandidati għat-tmexxija li għamel hekk. L-oħrajn baxxew rashom.

Ma kinitx l-ewwel darba għal Jeremy Corbyn li rribella u għamel ta’ rasu waqt votazzjoni. Milli qrajt, din l-istorja għamilha madwar 533 darba kemm ilu membru parlamentari, f’mumenti fejn fuq punt ta’ prinċipju dehrlu li kellu jivvota differenti.

Il-Partit Laburista Ingliż issa huwa mmexxi minn ribell. Għax irribella kull meta l-kuxjenza iddettatlu linja differenti minn dik tal-partit, Corybn hu bniedem li japprezza iktar il-valur tad-diskussjoni interna fil-partit. Diskussjoni li tibda mill-egħruq u titla’ l-fuq ftit ftit sakemm twassal għal deċiżjoni. Dan jikkuntrasta ħafna mal-mod kif ħafna drabi jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet fil-politika: jittieħdu fuq nett, u jkunu imposti fuq l-egħruq.

Dan kollu jagħti kredibilità ikbar lil Jeremy Corbyn fl-argumenti li żviluppa waqt il-kampanja għat-tmexxija dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ demokratizzazzjoni ikbar tal-partit. Irnexxielu jimmotiva ħafna nies u kulħadd jattribwixxi lilu, l-mewġa kbira ta’ membri ġodda li resqu lejn il-Partit Laburista Ingliż f’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat.

Dawn huma kollha persuni li emmnu li Jeremy Corbyn irid li l-Partit Laburista Ingliż, ikun il-partit li jismagħhom kif ukoll li jkun il-vuċi tagħhom. Wegħda li irnexxielu jimplimenta fl-ewwel ġranet tiegħu bħala mexxej bil-mod sempliċi imma dinjituż kif ħa sehem fil-Prime Minister’s Question Time nhar l-Erbgħa. Irċieva ‘il fuq minn 40,000 e-mail bi proposti u mistoqsijiet li minnhom għażel sitta dwar temi ta’ politika soċjali attwali fir-Renju Unit.

Corbyn ġie elett għax wassal messaġġ ċar dwar l-awtentiċità politika tiegħu: li hu jaġixxi skond dak li jemmen u mhux skond kif jaqbel.

Il-Partit Laburista Inġliż għandu dilemma li għadu ma sabx mod kif isolviha mingħajr ma jxellef dak li jemmen. Ix-xellug Ingliż hu maqsum u huwa rappreżentat minn diversi partiti. Dan hu ppenalizzat mis-sistema elettorali Ingliża tal-first past the post, fejn il-Ħodor, per eżempju, kisbu miljun vot, imma siġġu parlamentari wieħed fil-waqt li l-partit skoċċiż SNP b’ftit inqas minn miljun u nofs vot ikkonċentrati fl-Iskozja rebħu 56 siġġu parlamentari.

Rapport dwar l-elezzjoni ġenerali Ingliżi ta’ Mejju li għadda ippubblikat din il-ġimgħa u intitolat “Learning the right lessons from Labour’s 2015 defeat” jidentifika, fost l-oħrajn, li l-voti li l-Labour Ingliż rebaħ f’xi kostitwenzi mingħand kandidati liberali swew biex dawn tilfu s-siġġu u dan intrebaħ mill-Partit Konservattiv. Dan ġara f’numru ta’ kostitwenzi u spiċċa biex dgħajjef lill-allejati potenzjali tal-Partit Laburista Ingliż.

Dan trid tarah fid-dawl tar-riżultati elettorali miksuba tul is-snin fejn qabel ma tfaċċa Tony Blair, il-Labour Ingliż, meta rebaħ, għamel dan bit-tqanżieh. Blair kien rebaħ b’mod komdu tlett elezzjonijiet wara xulxin. Dan sar għax Blair trasforma l-Partit Laburista Ingliż minn wieħed ibbażat fuq twemmin soċjalista għal wieħed fejn iktar ta’ importanza lill-politika neo-liberali b’mod li għal żmien mhux qasir, ma kienx jingħaraf mill-Partit Konservattiv Ingliż. Fi ftit kliem, bosta jqiesu li l-Partit Laburista Ingliż fi żmien Tony Blair biegħ ruħu.

Din hi l-bidla mill-qiegħ li tfisser l-elezzjoni ta’ Jeremy Corbyn. Il-Partit Laburista Ingliż irid ruħu lura!

L-ideat ta’ Corbyn ġew imfissra min uħud bħala li jikkundannaw lill-Partit Laburista Ingliż għal snin twal fl-Opposizzjoni. Għax għal dawn, dak li temmen huwa sekondarju. L-importanza hi fl-istrateġija, fis-soundbites u fil-komunikazzjoni orkestrata u mhux fl-awtentiċità politika tat-tmexxija.

Issa ma rridx li ninftiehem ħazin: il-metodu kif il-politiku jikkomunika huwa importanti ħafna. Peró m’għandux u qatt mhu meħtieġ li jkunu sagrifikati l-prinċipji fuq l-altar tal-popolarità.

Din hi l-isfida li għandu quddiemu Jeremy Corbyn. Iżda hi sfida li jista’ jegħliba minkejja l-antagoniżmu tal-grupp parlamentari li hu mdawwar bih. Iċ-ċavetta jsibha, mhux biss fl-għeruq tal-partit li tawh l-appoġġ massiċċ tagħhom imma ukoll billi jibni pontijiet ma dawk il-partiti politiċi li jqarrbu l-iktar lejn l-ideat u l-idejali tiegħu. Għax hu possibli li l-prinċipji u l-istrateġija jimxu id f’id.


ippubblikat fuq Illum, il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Settembru 2015