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

Jekk il-budget ma jkunx approvat

petrol_pump

Bosta qed jistaqsu: x’jiġri jekk il-budget ma jkunx approvat?

M’hux sewwa qed jgħidu oħrajn li fil-waqt li t-taxxi l-ġodda l-Gvern qed jiġborhom mill-ewwel il-benefiċċji irridu nistennew dwarhom.

Ir-risposta insibuha f’Liġi imsejħa Att dwar il-Protezzjoni tal-Erarju.

Fis-subartiklu (1) tal-artiklu 2 ta’ din il-Liġi insibu dawn il-kelmiet :

“Kull meta Ministru jagħti avviż lill-Iskrivan tal-Kamra tad-Deputati ta’abbozz ta’ liġi dwar dazju ġdid jew dwar żieda ta’dazju li ġà jkun hemm, dak id-dazju ġdid jew dik iż-żieda ta’ dazju għandhom jittieħdu u jinġabru, minn dik l-awtorità li tiġi stabbilita fl-abbozz bħala responsabbli għall-ġbir relattiv minn dak in-nhar li tinħareġ Proklama biex tgħarraf li ħareġ avviż kif imsemmi qabel.”

Din il-Liġi kienet ġiet introdotta fl-1928, jiġifieri meta fil-Gvern kien hemm Gerald Strickland tal-Partit Kostituzzjonali Prim Ministru f’koalizzjoni (Il-Compact) mal-Partit Laburista immexxi minn Pawlu Boffa.

L-Att V tal-1928 kien ġie introdott biex jiġi evitat li jkun hemm l-ispekulazzjoni meta tkun introdott xi dazju jew taxxa ġdida. Għax mingħajr din il-liġi hemm il-periklu tal-ispekulazzjoni kif ukoll ta’ attivita’ li tevadi d-dazju jew it-taxxi. Għax jekk bejn meta titħabbar dazju jew taxxa ġdida jew miżjuda u meta tibda tinġabar jista’ jkun hemm min, per eżempju, jixtri petrol jew diesel b’sisa baxxa u mbagħad jerġa’ jbiegħu meta togħla s-sisa u jdaħħal fil-but id-differenza.

Naħseb li lkoll naqblu li abbuż bħal dan m’għandux isir.

Imma imbagħad il-liġi taħseb ukoll x’jiġri jekk il-budget (jew il-liġi li tintroduċi t-taxxa jew dazju) ma jkunx approvat.

Is- subartiklu (1) tal-artiklu 3 jitkellem ċar ħafna u jgħid hekk :

“Kull somma li tinġabar minn dak id-dazju ġdid jew minn dik iż-żieda ta’ dazju għandha tinżamm b’depożitu u għandha titħallas lill-erarju wara li l-abbozz tal-liġi jiġi approvat għal kollox, jew tingħata lura lid-depożitant, kollha jew biċċa minnha, jekk l-abbozz ma jgħaddix jew jekk id-dazju kif propost jiġi mnaqqas, jew jekk l-abbozz ma jgħaddix fi żmien sitt xhur mill-ewwel laqgħa tal-Kamra tad-Deputati.”

Mela l-Gvern għandu sitt xhur ċans. Jekk sa sitt xhur iI-budget, jew il-liġijiet li jimplimentaw il-budget, ma jkunx approvat ikun irid jirrifondi t-taxxi li ġabar lura.

Hemm ukoll il-possibilta’ l-Gvern ikollu jħallas ukoll l-interessi. Imma dak dettall legali li jmur lil hinn mill-iskop ta’ dan il-blog.

Nota : l-kelma dazju tinkludi kull taxxa, immaterjalment x’tissejjaħ.

Dom: a giant surrounded by pygmies

Much has been written in the past days on Dom Mintoff. On his service to the nation. On his values. On his methods. On his achievements.

In what we write we ought to be respectful. Not just to Dom, the man and his memory. We must also respect  ourselves. We must be factual.

We cannot respect the man  if we have no self respect!

His first positive contribution was in the development of the tools of  social solidarity,  determined to ensure that all had access to the basic essentials. He did this initially with Sir Paul Boffa his predecessor as Labour Leader. It was Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state through the introduction of Old Age Pensions and Income Tax to finance them!  Years earlier Boffa had prodded Gerald Strickland through the Compact to construct St Luke’s Hospital.  Boffa has been sidelined in the past 50 years when in reality it was he who should get the credit for founding the welfare state in Malta. Dom built on Boffa’s solid foundations, widening and deepening social services in the process.

His second positive was his determination that independence be translated into Maltese absolute control of the islands and their strategic infrastructure. This contrasted with Borg Olivier’s more gradual approach.  His negotiations shocked the nation as it was the first time that a Maltese politician stood up and spoke what they had in mind. In his last mass meeting before the 1971 general elections, held  at Marsa,  Mintoff had stated in very clear terms what he had in mind. It was time for Britain to pay up or pack up.

Lord Carrington then Defence Secretary in Edward Heath’s Cabinet states in his memoirs that negotiating with Dom was tough business. He realised “that there was also calculation in every Mintoff mood.”  Mintoff’s moods noted Carrington, would alternate “between periods of civilised charm and spasms of strident and hysterical abuse.”

Dom also opened a third front. He rightly felt the need for a separation of Church and State. It was, and still is  an area which requires much attention. It was much worse 50 years ago with an unelected archbishop-prince wielding political power unwittingly aiding  the colonial masters. Divide and rule was the British policy in its colonies. This front has been the cause of various scars (political and social), still not sufficiently healed.  It was violence from unexpected quarters which multiplied the political problems which each government has had to tackle since.

In his endeavours Dom was undoubtedly influenced by his direct experiences.  His witnessing of abject poverty during his childhood, his youth and immediate post war years formed his vision for developing the welfare state which had been painfully plotted by Sir Paul Boffa.

Having a foreign power controlling any square metre of significance on the islands was too much to bear for someone with Dom’s temperament. His father’s employment in the service of Lord Louis Mountbatten undoubtedly added to the significance of it all and to his determination to make a clean sweep.

It would be dishonest to ignore the above.

It would be however similarly dishonest to ignore the fact that his stewardship was also characterised by arrogance and bullying. It was characterised by organs of the state which sought to protect abusive behaviour. The long list of cases wherein Dom’s government and his most trusted Ministers were found guilty of infringing human rights is there for all to see. None of them was ever forced to resign. This is also part of Dom’s contribution to the development of  post 1964 Malta.

Anyone ever tried to identify the number of victims, some with a one way ticket to l-Addolorata Cemetery?

Former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi in an interview carried in The Sunday Times on March 25, 2012 stated: “I remember one time when someone mentioned something to him about corruption. He turned to me and said, ‘is it true?’ I replied: ‘That what’s people are saying’. His response was: ‘What can I do if that person has helped me to build up the party? Can I take action against him?’ You see, this is small Malta.”

That is Dom, the giant surrounded by pygmies: those who helped him build his party and then proceeded to squeeze it dry until the pips squealed.

Respecting Dom also means self-respect. Respect  the facts.  When this is done we can give the man his due.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom’s legacy

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

Dom’s legacy

During his lifetime Dom Mintoff  elicited extreme reactions ranging from adulation to extreme spite. Some lit candles in front of his images. In contrast others insisted  for his metaphoric crucifixion during the 1980s mass meetings.

The man certainly had a vision.  As he himself stated one of his priorities was the removal of those cobwebs in which Maltese society was entrapped. Removing these cobwebs finely spun and protected for years on end by conservatives was no mean feat. It is still work in progress.  It certainly required the skills and the stamina of a bulldozer which Dom did not lack.

Unfortunately at times his skills were misapplied. Those same bullying skills which were appropriately applied when confronting the colonising power were certainly out of place when applied against the Maltese population, at least that part of the population which disagreed with his ideas and methods.

Those hovering around him were at times more focused on their interests than on ensuring that he was properly  advised. This certainly showed as the better elements left the ranks of his party. Some went quietly, others with a bang. It is not appropriate at this point to quote chapter and verse. It has been done elsewhere. It is however not appropriate to just sing the praises of the man. He must be remembered in his human form, warts and all.

His political service spanned half a century during which he left his mark. He started off with his predecessor Sir Paul Boffa who laid the foundations of the welfare state when Labour was first in government after the landslide electoral victory of 1947. In later governments which he led Dom built on Boffa’s foundations widening and deepening the welfare state.

The man found comfort in the company of dictators. In fact he was a frequent visitor to their courts. His friends included Muammar Gaddafi, Nikolai Caucescu, Todor Zhivkov, Kim Il Sung. He was certainly inspired by Gamal Nasser’s Arabic Nationalism  which coincided with his first term as Prime Minister and his resignation in 1958.

The man’s legacy will be determined in the long term when the impact of his negative methods will have subsided. Then history will acknowledge Dom’s contribution to the formation of Malta’s identity as well as to the acceptance of social solidarity as an essential objective of good politics.

originally published at di-ve.com

On this blog you can read the following additional posts on Dom MINTOFF :

21st August 2012 : Dom Mintoff

22nd June 2012 : Dom Mintoff fuq in-Net TV.

5th May 2012 : Dom Mintoff : a political bully.

23rd April 2012 : Thanks O Lord for giving us DOM.

1st April 2012: Should we thank Dom?

Dom Mintoff

Il-mewt ta’ Dom Mintoff bla dubju tnissel ħafna reazzjonijiet.

Il-bniedem kien il-kawża ta’ kontroversji waqt ħajtu u bla dubju jibqa’ jkun ta’ kontroversji wara mewtu u dan għal snin twal.

Bosta, inkluż jien, kitbu dwaru u dwar il-ħidma tiegħu bi kritika għal din il-ħidma.

Għalkemm il-ħidma tiegħu kienet kontroversjali u bosta drabi b’metodi mhux aċċettabbli jibqa’ l-fatt innegabbli li Dom Mintoff għal snin twal ta’ servizz lill-Malta biex iġibha l-quddiem. Ta’ ħin u saħħtu għal iktar minn 50 sena u kompla fejn ħalla Pawlu Boffa fl-iżvilupp tas-servizzi soċjali.

L-aħħar kontribut politiku tiegħu wassal biex Malta daħlet fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Għal dan għad jibqgħulu grati l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Anke’ Pawlu Boffa ………..

Silta mill-intervista li Andrew Azzopardi ghamel lil Carmel Cacopardo.

Jekk trid tara l-intervista kollha :

aghfas hawn ghall-ewwel parti

aghfas hawn ghat-tieni parti

Mistoqsija : Partit li jġib perċentaġġ u numru ta’ voti tant żgħir huwa worth l-isforz li tagħmlu?

Tweġiba : Din l-istess mistoqsija nimmaġina li kienet issir lill-Partit Laburista fis-snin 20 meta t-Tabib Pawlu Boffa u l-Partit Laburista kienu sandwich bejn il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Kostituzzjonali ta’ Gerald Strickland.

L-ideal tagħna jiġġustifika kull sforz għax nafu li l-ewwel nett l-appoġġ li ngawdu hu ikbar minn dak rifless fil-voti li niksbu. Dan deher ċar waqt l-aħħar kampanja elettorali fejn in-nuqqas ta’ riżorsi għamilha diffiċli għalina biex inwieġbu fuq il-media b’mod partikolari meta ffaċċjati b’kampanja negattiva kif għamel il-PN kontra tagħna.

L-appoġġ potenzjali għal AD deher waqt l-elezzjoni tal-Parlament Ewropew fl-2004  meta l-kandidat ta’ AD kiseb kważi 23,000 vot fl-ewwel għadd.

Hu inevitabbli li f’xi stadju l-monolit bipartitiku jrid jikkrolla.  Kemm il-PN kif ukoll il-PL  huma koalizzjonijiet opportunistiċi li jġibu flimkien persuni b’ideat tant differenti li jagħmilha prattikament diffiċli li jikkoeżistu politikament. Dan qiegħed jiġri presentement fil-PN. Fil-futur għad irid iseħħ fuq skala ikbar anke fil-PL.

Dom Mintoff: a political bully

The film Dear Dom has elicited contrasting reactions. It reflects the whims of the man. Initially being way ahead of his contemporaries, he ended up detached from the effects of the changes which he pursued.

He rightly wanted Malta to exit the soonest from its Middle Ages. The temporal powers of the Church run by an archbishop-prince and the colonial rulers were his first targets. Deliberately he opted to bully his way through. The bulldozer was Dom Mintoff’’s preferred operational tool and strategy. Initially used against the colonisers and the Church it was subsequently used by Mr Mintoff against his own people.

His oratory as well as his negotiating skills were central throughout his political career. He radically reformed and expanded the welfare state created by his predecessor as Prime Minister and Labour leader, Sir Paul Boffa, whom he toppled after accusing him of not being capable of standing up to the colonial masters.

Mr Mintoff’s strategy of seeking to improve the nation’s standard of living through integration with the UK stood in stark contrast to that of his nemesis George Borg Olivier who opted for independence as the tool to improve Malta’s living conditions. Mr Mintoff’s strategy to achieve integration failed and eventually he turned to Plan B: to follow the road leading to independence, patiently developed by Dr Borg Olivier. He couldn’t stand that, as playing second fiddle was not his game.

Dr Borg Olivier was patient. Mr Mintoff was not. Independence for Dr Borg Olivier was a gradual process starting with the essentials of self-government and slowly building up the county’s infrastructure: a prerequisite for its social and economic development. That was too slow for Mr Mintoff’s temperament. His attitude was one seeking absolute control at day one. His pace was much faster than Dr Borg Olivier could ever get accustomed to. This was reflected in Mr Mintoff’s style of negotiations, in his demands and in the stormy foreign relations which developed as a result of his approach.

Mr Mintoff’s followers embarked on many a violent spree. One may trace the justification of violence as a political tool in the debate and declarations leading to the Independence Round Table Conference, in particular in what are known as Labour’s six political points (is-sitt punti). Lino Spiteri interviewed in Dear Dom, qualifies this reference to violence as a necessary tool in the rebellion against the colonial powers. While that was indeed one of its earliest manifestations, unfortunately it eventually became a tool for all seasons, when Mr Mintoff lost control of the hangers-on which surrounded him, including the notorious members of his Cabinets, those who had their own “bully boys”.

Violence shamed Mr Mintoff and the Labour Party many a time, most notably when The Times was burnt down on Black Monday, October 15, 1979. In 1984 even his handpicked successor was embarrassed when supporters (labelled as the aristocracy of the working class) went berserk at the Archbishop’s Curia and destroyed all they could see.

Mr Mintoff was not capable of standing up to the criminal behaviour which slowly developed around him until it engulfed him and his party. This was recently described by former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi in an interview carried in The Sunday Times on March 25. Mr Mizzi stated: “I remember one time when someone mentioned something to him about corruption. He turned to me and said, is it true? I replied: ‘That what’s people are saying’. His response was: ‘What can I do if that person has helped me to build up the party? Can I take action against him?’ You see, this is small Malta.” That is Mr Mintoff at the mercy of his sycophants: those who helped him build his party and then proceeded to squeeze it dry until the pips squealed.

Bullying of opponents was an essential characteristic of Mr Mintoff’s method of government. Obviously those who benefited from his methods and actions think otherwise.

They consider it as a minor and insignificant blip. Those at the receiving end tend however to recognise it as an essential element of the man’s method. Positive politics is less relevant if the implementation method adopted is unacceptable. As a result Labour’s achievements under his leadership related to the welfare state and the general upgrading of the rights of working men and women will be forever overshadowed.

Coercive methods were characteristic of the man who sought to achieve his targets by hook or by crook. The shareholders of the National Bank of Malta, their heirs and all those who stood in his way are living testimony to Mr Mintoff’s methods. He bullied his way through all opposition: in his party, in Parliament, in civil society, in industrial relations and in the economy. His bullying of intellectuals bequeathed an inheritance of mediocrity to his Labour Party.

When the historical dust will have settled there will be one issue which sticks out in defining the man. It will not be the welfare state but his political bullying which shaped his party for a generation.

published in The Times of Malta, May 5, 2012

The Case For Coalition Government

gborgolivier1.jpgsirpaulboffa1.jpg

George Borg Olivier & Sir Paul Boffa formed the last Coalition Government in Malta in the early 50s.

(originally published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 3 February 2008)

by Dr. ISABELLE CALLEJA

Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Malta.

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s article entitled Settle Down and Read this Please focused on a number of issues. However, I wish to address what I believe to be the central argument of the piece. This is her advice to “the chattering classes”, and by this invective I presume she is referring to those floating voters who normally determine the outcome of an election, of the uselessness of voting for a minority party. She believes that our present institutional set-up ultimately renders this act null and void. In her own words: “It’s pointless debating the fairness or otherwise of the situation at this stage; we have to work within the parameters now, and perhaps scream and shout about it later”

In effect, what Daphne is referring to is the present Maltese electoral system, which does not promote the election of small parties. In European countries, to further consensus and ensure democratic behaviour, minority interests and their representation in parliament are encouraged. This is ensured through an electoral device known as a threshold. In certain states, parties that obtain as little as 1.5 per cent of the vote nationally are awarded representation in parliament. The norm however is 5 per cent. This medium is chosen in order to fulfil the two requirements of governance: fair representation and efficiency. In other words, minority parties can more easily contribute to government, while not disrupting its flow by encouraging a fragmentation of interests and the collapse of the legislature.

These structures have ensured that numerous interests are represented in the parliaments of European states. Indeed, today Malta is the only European country where only two political parties are represented in parliament, thus excluding the smaller parties and minority interests. On the continent, the smaller parties play an important role in the political process. They represent and further interests that have been excluded, forgotten or neglected by the major parties. They introduce new issues to the body politic. They also allow a multiplicity of interests to be represented in parliament, thus ensuring a politics of inclusion rather than exclusion. Most importantly, they also ensure that new divisions that occur within the political mainframe are neutralised by according them representation. Thus it has been shown that far right parties with a racist agenda are more ready to compromise when included in the system, and more easily radicalised once excluded.

Small parties, in other words, are an essential prerequisite in the smooth running of a modern democratic state. In Malta, however, despite the numerous discussions and consequent changes to our electoral laws, the threshold common in other democratic states has not been incorporated. The 2007 amendments to electoral law were said to have been incorporated in order to ensure increased proportionality. However, the reality is that the changes were made to service the needs of the two major parties, for our party system is presently categorised, in political terms, as a frozen party system, in that since 1966 it has consisted of only two parties that have persisted in resisting change. Indeed these parties may be characterised as dinosaur parties: parties within a system that are characterised by their longevity, durability and entrenchment, parties that are also able to access and monopolise institutional resources to their benefit, and to the detriment of the political system at large.

This scenario escalates in today’s political climate where, due to globalisation, the parties are constrained in their economic and social policies by the free market, by the independence of central banks and by the emasculation of regulatory policies that are now determined by a higher level of government. The result is parties of government denuded of ideology that act as corporate players rather than political ideologues. Their resources now being largely provided by the corporate world also means that they need rely far less on their grass roots electorate. These parties, known as “cartel parties”, have little to differentiate them from each other and more easily work together to maintain their monopoly through the status quo.

In Europe, what has halted this process is multi-party government or, as it is better known, coalition government. The politics of coalition lie at the heart of government, and in Western Europe roughly three-quarters of all governments formed in the post-war era have been composed of multiple political parties. Indeed, nearly all states have been governed by a coalition at some time or other, because even two-party systems are potential coalition systems, as is evinced by the possibility of a split in the party, and the rise of new parties.

The notion of a coalition government, however, has frequently been discredited, viewed as unstable, short-lived and unable to provide the executive with the support needed to govern. Locally, we look at our nearest neighbour, Italy, as providing evidence of this reality. At the other end of the spectrum, however, we have Germany – in the last 50 years a fine example of a supremely stable democracy, which has been constantly governed under a coalition. For ultimately, a coalition can be more stable than a minority government, or even a one-seat majority – as has been demonstrated locally. It must be remembered that ultimately, like all governments, the partners in a coalition usually prefer to keep that coalition working, instead of splitting and risking the loss of their government power. It is only in exceptional circumstances that a partner abandons a coalition, often when they fear that their core beliefs are being compromised.

For truth to tell, coalitions, though they require finesse to maintain, provide the political system with a mechanism of governance that is in many ways beneficial. Its immediate advantage is of incorporating diverse interests and ensuring that it is not the same one or two parties that dominate the political space and, by extension, access to resources. However, its usefulness goes much further. Maintaining a coalition implies greater respect for the niceties of democracy. Coalitions require that the tools and philosophy of liberal democracies are used and adhered to and that the underlying conflict in any state is resolved through compromise and consensus on a daily basis.

For coalitions have their own equilibrium. This ensures, that from the parties with the largest number of votes, it is the party that occupies the centre of the spectrum that is mostly likely to lead a coalition, making consensus far more possible. This also reinforces the generally held view, that coalition governments have a higher degree of perceived legitimacy, for consensus-building politics also better reflects public opinion. This is demonstrated by the growing importance of parliamentary debate in these states, because one of the central challenges facing multi-party governments in parliamentary democracies is the need for coalition parties to communicate to their constituents that they have not strayed significantly from their electoral commitments when agreeing to policy compromises. These parties normally attempt to “make their case” to constituents through their behaviour in legislative debate. Debate here provides a unique opportunity – tied directly to the policy the government is implementing – to declare party positions on the coalition compromise. This is also tied to the fact that coalitions distribute power rather than centralise it, therefore power is more shared among the partners of an executive.

Nor is it necessarily true, as is often argued, that this power sharing inherently weakens the political efficiency of the government, as is illustrated by the competent performance of the Nordic states, which are constantly ruled by coalition governments. This is because a coalition government has a wider background than a one-party government, which it can use to its advantage. In this case, its effectiveness may actually increase, surpassing that of a one-party government. Indeed, one-party governments may have their own troubles, as a consequence of competition between leading politicians or factions in the government party, which may in turn reduce their own efficiency.

Coalition parties undoubtedly are often more practiced at managing one of the most delicate problems of participating in government – reconciling the tension between the need to compromise on policy and the need to maintain the party’s public profile with respect to certain policy commitments. For coalitions also provide the parties of government with some room for manoeuvre in dealing with their more conservative recalcitrant elements, or ultra liberals, while providing them with a valid reason for adopting policies that may not always be popular with their grass roots electorate. Ultimately, however, coalitions are constant sum games. Like any other type of democratic government, they can succeed or fail. Some parties may split under the experience, others may grow stronger. Coalitions may further certain policies and constrain others. Some parties and political systems are more attuned to the politics of coalition than others. Having said this, it has been shown that the legislative behaviour of European parties in coalitions is disciplined and the majority of coalitions survive their term of office.

Could this arguably also be the case for Malta? The island had two cases of coalition government in the 1950s that did not prove very successful. However, the underlying conditions also need to be considered. In the first place, an external actor, the British, also impacted on the policy process, often derailing it. Indeed, this also happened under one-party government. In the second place, coalition government needs a certain level of competence and expertise, rarely found in newly democratising states, where one-party government is recommended. In 2008, however, I believe that the state of Malta and its governing institutions have reached a certain level of maturity and, indeed, could claim to be a consolidated democracy. This, one may plausibly argue, will produce the mature and responsible actors required to conduct the sophisticated game of understanding, bargaining, and compromise necessary in coalition government, and the institutional mechanisms necessary to play this game – that is the establishment of disciplined mechanisms for decision-making and conflict resolution.

Our present party structures also make coalition government a feasible enterprise. Three parties in parliament, leading to what is know as a system of pivotality, is seen as an optimal formula to support coalition government. This system in Germany, known as the two-and-a-half party system, has resulted in a strong executive and governments of longevity. In this scenario. the smaller party plays a pivotal role in sustaining, diversifying, and legitimising government policies. Undoubtedly, at the coalition stage, this party does have power that exceeds its status. However, once the bargaining phase is over, the larger party reasserts its dominance. Indeed, the smaller party must then struggle to retain its stance on policy and may suffer electoral decline as a consequence.

The reality in Malta, however, is that a fear of competition, of a multi-party system and of coalitions has retarded and constrained our political forum. Further development and democratisation proves impossible as long as a plurality of interests remains absent from parliament. Indeed, this becomes all the more urgent as Maltese society becomes more multi-faceted, with diverging views and different visions of the state that must be respected and incorporated in order to reinforce the social contract. This impoverishment of our political system is seen everywhere, but I will limit myself to two cases.

The first one is that of parliament that has increasingly become a rubber stamp for government, with poor attendance records and often low levels of parliamentary debate. The outcome of a parliamentary vote is foreseen and indeed discussion, let alone the passing of a private member bill, is an unknown phenomenon. The presence of more parties in parliament, and indeed of a coalition government, would rehabilitate the status of parliament. Parties will use this forum to explain to their electorate changes in policy, essential for small parties made to deviate from their programme. Under coalitions, legislation going through parliament is also often altered quite drastically to reflect divergent views on the policy area. The second example is that of the departure of our human resources, a situation we cannot afford on the island. If our institutions do not allow the participation of a multiplicity of views, views that enrich the body politic, then those who hold them will flee. Deprived of the opportunity to serve the state, they must seek this honour elsewhere, where they are more appreciated. The state of Malta is left all the poorer and we, the citizens, are the losers in such a short-sighted policy. One such case is that of Arnold Cassola.

A third party in parliament will provide resources to the party system as yet absent. It may provide a minority government with the opportunity to govern. It may provide to a government with a one-seat majority the possibility to survive in the event of a defection. It may provide a government with a slim majority a more comfortable and workable majority. It may provide a party of government with greater legitimacy, a wider vision and additional resources. Above all, it will ensure a government that truly reflects the wishes and will of the people, for parties and governments forget all too often that they govern to serve the people!

Let me conclude by referring once again to Daphne’s article, and beg to differ with her advice to the “the chattering people” that: “It’s pointless debating the fairness or otherwise of the situation at this stage; we have to work within the parameters now, and perhaps scream and shout about it later.” Politicians have one aim above all others, and that is to govern. Parties that profit from a system are loath to change it, and this has been well illustrated by the recent electoral changes. When this situation occurs, than change must come from outside, it must come from the people. This, I assure you, is feasible. I would be loath to tell anyone how to vote – that is not my job and I leave it to the politicians. However, I must add that statistically it is very possible for AD to win one seat on first count votes. As Daphne very accurately indicated, it is in the 9th and 10th districts where most AD voters are found and they are therefore spatially contained. In this scenario, 3,500 first-count votes is a viable and realistic undertaking.