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

X’inhu għaddej bejn il-PN u 17 Black ?

L-aħbar fit-Times tal-Ħadd dwar il-laqgħa bejn il-Membri Parlamentari tal-PN Kristy Debono u Hermann Schiavone ma Yorgen Fenech ta’ 17 Black fil-21 sular tat-torri ta’ Portomaso hi prova tal-wiċċ b’ieħor tal-Partit Nazzjonalista.

Is-17 Black hi kumpanija (inkorporata fid-Dubai) li dwarha hemm allegazzjoni ta’ tixħim li fih jissemmew Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri. Niftakru fl-emails dwar l-iskandlu Panama fejn intqal minn fejn ġejjin il-miljuni fil-kontijiet bankarji ta’ Mizzi u Schembri.
Dakinnhar il-PN għamilha tal-paladin kontra l-korruzzjoni. Imma llum imur għand l-istess 17Black biex jitolbu l-għajnuna.

Kristy Debono qalet li talbet għajnuna dwar użu ta’ sala żgħira għall-konferenzi. Hermann Schiavone min-naħa l-oħra kien evażiv u ma riedx jagħti informazzjoni.

Kif tista’ temmen lil dawn in-nies (u lil sħabhom) meta jitkellmu kontra l-korruzzjoni?
Kristy Debono u Hermann Schiavone għandhom l-obbligu li jagħtu spjegazzjoni pubblika. Anzi, li kieku l-Partit Nazzjonalista kien serju, diġa ssospendihom.

Imma ilna nafu, li s-serjetà ma toqgħodx tal-Pietà.

Pluraliżmu anke fil-valuri

Wieħed mill-argumenti qawwija li lewnu d-dibattitu dwar id-dħul ta’ Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja kien li Malta ħtieġilha tidħol fis-seklu għoxrin qabel ma taħseb biex tissieħeb fl-Unjoni. Kien argumentat li kien hemm il-ħtieġa ta’ progress fuq ħafna fronti qabel ma Malta setgħet tissieħeb fl-UE. In-naħa l-oħra tal-argument, ovvjament, dejjem kien li s-sħubija minnha innifisha setgħet tkun il-katalist għat-tibdil tant meħtieġ fis-soċjetá Maltija. Għax il-bidla tista’ ddum biex isseħħ, imma fl-aħħar mhux possibli li tkun evitata. Kif jgħidu, tardare sí, scappare no!

Malta ssieħbet fl-UE fl-2004. Il-bidla fis-soċjetá Maltija għadha għaddejja, kultant b’ritmu mgħaġġel ħafna. Ir-referendum dwar id-divorzju li sar f’Mejju 2011 ħoloq terrimot, li, nistgħu ngħidu illi għadu għaddej.

Il-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ li l-Parliament approva iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kienet pass ieħor f’din id-direzzjoni. Kienet deskritta bħala “immorali” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxista” (Clyde Puli), “kommunista” (Herman Schiavone) kif ukoll “tal-Korea ta’ Fuq ” (Tonio Fenech).

Dawn it-tikketti juru kif jaħdem moħħ dawk li qed jirreżistu din il-bidla. Mid-dehra ħadd minn dawn il-kritiċi tal-leġislazzjoni dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieg ma fehem li dan il-pass kien ukoll il-konsegwenza loġika tal-emenda kostituzzjonali, approvata mill-Parlament fil-leġislatura l-oħra liema emenda kienet iċċarat li d-diskriminazzjoni minħabba l-ġeneru kienet ipprojibita ukoll. L-intolleranti fost l-Insara fostna jgħidu li dawk li jappoġġaw l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huma “bla valuri”. Dawn għadhom ma irrealizzawx li l-valuri tagħhom m’humiex l-unika valuri. Qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri. Ħadd m’għandu monopolju, la dwar il-valuri u l-anqas dwar dak li hu tajjeb jew ħażin.

Uħud mill-kelliema ewlenin tal-Opposizzjoni, minkejja li ddikjaraw l-appoġġ għal-liġi taħt konsiderazzjoni, xorta dehrilhom li kellhom jużaw il-ħin ta’ diskorshom bi kliem dispreġġattiv dwar dak propost. Dan il-lingwaġġ mimli insulti użat fid-dibattitu parlamentari sfortunatament jirrifletti fuq l-Opposizzjoni Nazzjonalista kollha, anke fuq dawk li għamlu sforz ġenwin u qagħdu attenti li jużaw  lingwaġġ konċiljattiv biex jikkomunikaw ħsiebijiethom.

L-opposizzjoni konservattiva qegħda fir-rokna. Min-naħa l-waħda riedet tħabbar mal-erbat irjieħ tal-pajjiż li issa kkonvertiet u ser tkun fuq quddiem biex tiddefendi d-drittijiet tal-komunitá LGBTIQ. Min-naħa l-oħra iżda, l-Opposizzjoni ma setgħetx tinjora l-fatt li għad għandha dipendenza qawwija fuq appoġġ minn l-agħar elementi ta’ intolleranza reliġjuża fil-pajjiż, dawk jiġifieri li għadhom iqiesu d-drittijiet LGBTIQ bħal materja ta’ “immoralitá pubblika”.  Edwin Vassallo kien l-iktar wieħed ċar fi kliemu meta iddikjara li l-kuxjenza tiegħu ma tippermettilux li jivvota favur dak li huwa ddeskriva bħala proposta leġislattiva “immorali”.

Fi ftit sekondi Vassallo (u oħrajn) ħarbat dak li kien ilu jippjana Simon Busuttil sa minn meta kien elett Kap tal-PN.  Dan wassal lil uħud biex jispekulaw dwar jekk l-Insara intolleranti, id-demokristjani u l-liberali fil-PN jistgħux jibqgħu jikkoabitaw wisq iktar.

Dan kollu jikkuntrasta mal-mod kif ġiebu ruħhom il-konservattivi fil-Partit Laburista. Dawn, minħabba kalkuli politiċi, ippreferew li jew jibqgħu ħalqhom magħluq inkella qagħdu attenti ħafna dwar dak li qalu. Jidher li tgħallmu xi ħaġa mid-dibattitu dwar id-divorzju!

L-approvazzjoni mill-Parliament tal-liġi dwar l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ huwa pass ieħor il-quddiem favur il-pluraliżmu tal-valuri. Il-Parlament aċċetta l-pluraliżmu tal-valuri u iddeċieda li kulħadd jixraqlu r-rispett. Għandna bżonn nifhmu, lkoll kemm aħna, li qed ngħixu f’soċjetá bi pluralitá ta’ valuri li lkoll jixirqilhom ir-rispett. Hu possibli li ma naqblux, imma li ninsulentaw lil xulxin minħabba li nħaddnu valuri differenti ma jagħmilx sens. Xejn m’hu ser jibdel il-fatt li ħadd ma għandu monoplju fuq il-valuri li f’numru ta’ każi jikkontrastaw.

Malta illum introduċiet l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ. M’aħniex ser indumu biex nindunaw li dan ser jagħmel lis-soċjetá tagħna waħda aħjar, għal kulħadd.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 16 ta’ Lulju 2017

Value Pluralism

One of the arguments made during the debate prior to Malta joining the European Union was that before it did so, Malta should open its doors to the 21st century. It was argued that much progress needed to be made before Malta could join the EU. The flip side of this argument was that EU membership could be the right catalyst for change that Maltese society needed, because change can be obstructed and delayed but, in the long term, it cannot be stopped.

Malta did join the EU in 2004 and the opening of the doors (and windows) of change is currently work-in-progress. The divorce referendum held in May 2011 opened the floodgates to a recognition of the fact that Maltese society was in a state of rapid change, making up for lost time.

The Marriage Equality Reform legislation approved in Parliament earlier this week was another step. It was described as “immoral” (Edwin Vassallo), “Marxist” (Clyde Puli), “communist” (Herman Schiavone) or even “North Korean” (Tonio Fenech).

These labels identify the frame of mind of those resisting change. Apparently, none of these critics of marriage equality legislation has yet realised that this step is the direct legal consequence of the Constitutional amendment, approved by Parliament some years back, which spelled out in unequivocal terms the prohibition of discrimination based on gender.

The intolerant Christian right argues that legislation proposing marriage equality is the result of a society which has lost its values. They have not realised that their “values” are not the only ones around: we live in a society where a plurality of values is a fact. The Christian right has no monopoly: either on values or on what is right or wrong.

A number of leading Opposition spokespersons, notwithstanding their declaration of support for the proposed legislation, deemed it fit to hurl never-ending insults against the proposals being debated and all that these represented. This insulting language used during the parliamentary debate is a sad reflection on the whole of the PN Opposition, even on those who sought to apply the brakes and in fact used more conciliatory language to convey their thoughts.

The conservative opposition is in a tight corner. On the one hand it wanted to announce in unequivocal terms its recent “conversion” to championing LGBTIQ rights. At the same time the Opposition could not ignore the fact that it is still chained to an intolerant Christian right which labels LGBTIQ rights as morally reprehensible. Edwin Vassallo was the most unequivocal when he declared that his conscience would not permit him to vote in favour of what he described as an “immoral” legislative proposal.

In a couple of seconds, Vassallo and others blew up what had been carefully constructed by Simon Busuttil since assuming the PN leadership, causing some to speculate whether the cohabitation of the conservative Christian right, Christian Democrats and liberals in the PN can last much longer.

In contrast, even if for political expediency, the conservatives in the Labour Party parliamentary group have either kept their mouth shut or else watched their language. It seems that they have learnt some lessons from the divorce referendum debate.

Parliament’s approval last Wednesday of the Marriage Equality Legislation is another step in entrenching the acceptance of value pluralism. Parliament has accepted value pluralism and decided that it was time to respect everyone.

We need to realise that we form part of a society with a plurality of values, all of which deserve the utmost respect. It is possible to disagree, but insulting people because they have different values than one’s own is not on. A society with a plurality of values is a fact and nobody will or can change that.

Malta has now introduced marriage equality. As a result, our society will show a marked improvement that will have a positive impact on all of us.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 16 July 2017

Meta l-kuxjenza ta’ Edwin Vassallo kienet bil-vaganzi

 

Meta smajt uħud mid-diskorsi fil-Parlament dwar l-emendi fil-liġijiet diversi li ser jintroduċu l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieg ma kontx sorpriż. La b’dak li intqal u l-anqas bil-lingwaġġ magħżul.

Il-linġwaġġ konċiljattiv ta’ Claudette Buttigieg, Carm Mifsud Bonnici u Mario de Marco kien ta’ ġid avolja ma tantx jidher li jista’ jwassal ghal-soluzzjoni għad-differenzi dwar il-lingwaġġ tal-liġi proposta.

Imma imbagħad dak li qalu Herman Schiavone, David Agius u Clyde Puli diffiċli biex tifhmu meta akkumpanjat b’dikjarazzjoni li wara kollox qalu li ser jivvutaw favur.

Bla dubju dak li qal Edwin Vassallo kien l-iktar diskors li jistona. Għax kif tista’ tgħid dak il-kliem wara li tkun ikkontestajt elezzjoni bħala kandidat f’isem partit politiku li ukoll wiegħed l-ugwaljanza fiż-żwieġ?

Imma donnu l-kuxjenza ta’ Vassallo mhux dejjem taħdem! Qabel l-elezzjoni ma nigżitux meta l-Kap tieghu Simon Busuttil kien qed jitkellem dwar żwieġ bejn persuni tal-istess sess.

Forsi kienet bil-vaganzi!

Naqbel ma’ Joseph ……………. u ma’ Hermann, u ma’ Michael u ma’ Ralph

Joseph Muscat ihobb jiccajtahermann schiavonemichael-briguglioRalph-Cassar

 

Il-bieraħ Joseph tkellem dwar is-solidarjetà. Solidarjetà mal-Greċja u l-Italja huma u jissieltu biex bir-riżorsi limitati tagħhom jassistu lir-refuġjati. Joseph qal li “ma nistgħux nitkellmu dwar solidarjetà jekk meta tiġi s-siegħa tal-prova ma nipprattikawhiex.”

Wara din id-dikjarazzjoni ċara ta’ Joseph favur is-solidarjetà ikun xieraq jekk huwa ukoll jingħaqad mal-kunsilliera Hermann Schiavone (kunsillier f’Birżebbuġa), Michael Briguglio (kunsillier f’Tas-Sliema, Ralph Cassar (kunsillier f’Ħ’Attard) u ma’ ħafna kunsilliera oħra ta’ rieda tajba li qed jipproponu illi l-komunitajiet tagħna jaddottaw familja ta’ refuġjati mis-Sirja.

Fi kliem Joseph, din hi is-siegħa tal-prova u għalhekk ikun xieraq li l-Gvern Malti jissieħeb mal-Kunsilli Lokali u l-NGOs li jixtiequ b’solidarjetà jaddottaw familja Sirjana.

Dan ikun messaġġ ċar ta’ solidarjetà, li l-poplu Malti dejjem wera ma’ min hu dgħajjef u mgħakkes.