Għada s-Sibt

Għada s-Sibt għandna l-Laqgħa Ġenerali Annwali tal-partit.

Kif ħabbart żmien ilu (is-sena l-oħra fil-fatt) naħseb li jkun għaqli li t-tmexxija tal-partit tgħaddi f’idejn persuna iżgħar minni. Persuna li tista’ twassal lill-partit sal-elezzjoni tal-Parlament Ewropew u dik tal-Kunsilli Lokali s-sena d-dieħla u sal-Elezzjoni Ġenerali madwar 4 snin oħra.

Naħseb li dan hu fl-aħjar interess tal-partit li jsir. Issa hu l-aħjar waqt għal pass bħal dan. F’partit żgħir bħal tagħna hu għaqli li t-tibdil meħtieġ nagħmluh gradwalment, fil-mument addattat, bil-pass tagħna, biex inkunu nistgħu nieħdu l-ikbar benefiċċju possibbli minnu!

Aħna jkollna elezzjoni tal-uffiċjali kollha tal-partit kull sena. Din is-sena mhux ser nippreżenta ismi għal kariga ta’ Chairperson tal-partit. (Aħna m’għandniex Kap iżda Chairperson! Qafas sempliċi ta’ tmexxija bla ħafna kumplikazzjonijiet u xinxilli.)

Meta nħares lejn il-ħidma li għamilna flimkien tul is-snin, sar ħafna xogħol, mertu ta’ kulħadd. Imma għad baqa’ ukoll ħafna x’isir.

Da parti tiegħi għalkemm mhux ser nibqa’ fil-kariga ta’ Chairperson tal-partit fi ħsiebni nibqa’ attiv fil-partit biex nibqa’ nagħti l-kontribut tiegħi fil-ħidma li hi tant meħtieġa li tibqa’ issir.

Ir-riżultati li ħdimna għalihom mhux dejjem jidhru. Ħdimna ħafna, numru żgħir ta’ nies f’ambjent li hu mfassal għal żewġ partiti politiċi biss. Ambjent li lilna jarana żejda u jostakolna l-ħin kollu.

Is-sena l-oħra, ftit wara l-elezzjoni ġenerali ftaħna kawża kostituzzjonali dwar is-sistema elettorali imfassla b’mod li toħnoqna. Din il-kawża qed toqrob lejn it-tmiem u huwa ittamat li fl-aħħar kwart tas-sena, wara s-sajf, ikollna l-ewwel deċiżjoni. Hi triq twila li irridu nimxu flimkien.

Mhiex triq faċli, imma hi triq li mxejniha pass pass. Kultant b’diffikultà kbira. Hemm min jikkritikana għax jixtieqilna l-ġid. Lil dawn ngħidilhom grazzi. Nagħtu każ kull ma jingħad. Hemm min imaqdar. B’dawn nieħdu paċenzja.

Tagħna hi ħidma li tirrikjedi paċenzja, inkluż li anke tissaporti kritika inġusta li kultant ifajjar min hu mgħaġġel, bla sabar, inkella ma jafx l-affarijiet jew saħansitra moħħu biss fih innifsu.

Repetutament immorru għand l-Awtorità tax-Xandir dwar il-mod kif il-medja politika tinjorana. Jagħtuna raġun, imma bla rimedju.

Dan hu l-ambjent li fih ħdimna u għadna naħdmu, ghax qatt ma qtajna qalbna. F’dan l-ambjent fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali ġibna 4747 vot, kważi d-doppju tal-elezzjoni ta’ qabel. Mhux biżżejjed. Imma fil-klima li qed naħdmu, b’kollox kontra tagħna, bla riżorsi, hu raġjonevoli.

Dan mhux ambjent li ser jinbidel mil-lum għal għada. Però qatt ma qtajna qalbna. Sadanittant il-ħidma tkompli.

Għada s-Sibt ngħaddi s-siġġu lil Sandra li nawgurala ħafna ħidma fejjieda.

Nieħu din l-opportunità biex nirringrazzja lit-tim kollu li ħdimna flimkien. Grazzi lil kulħadd.

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

The last straw

The situation is now unbearable. The discriminatory gender mechanism introduced in the Constitution by consent of the PNPL duopoly is definitely the last straw. The PNPL duopoly have now been at it for quite some time: they are undermining our very democracy.

Some years back they introduced the proportionality adjustment mechanism in the Constitution. They fine-tuned it over the years. Yet it is only applicable when just two political parties make it to parliament. The moment that a third party makes it to parliament the Constitution ceases to guarantee proportionality except to the one party which obtains over fifty per cent of the votes in a general election. All the others are excluded from benefitting from the proportionality adjustment mechanism.

Act XXII of 2021, given the Presidential assent on the 20 April 2021, introduces another adjustment mechanism to general election results. It is a gender adjustment mechanism and is likewise applicable when candidates of two political parties make it to Parliament.

Twelve additional members of Parliament will be added from the under-represented sex. These will “be apportioned equally between the absolute majority party or the relative majority party and the minority party”. There is no provision for the applicability of the gender adjustment mechanism when parliament is made up of more than two political parties.

Way back in March 2019 government had set up a “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” which was entrusted to draw up proposals on the need to achieve gender balance in parliament. In July of the same year, after an exercise in public consultation, this Technical Committee published its findings and final proposals.

The Technical Committee in its report acknowledges the receipt of a position paper submitted by the Maltese Green Party which emphasised the need of a “broader electoral reform” than the one under consideration. Unfortunately, the Technical Committee failed to engage and discuss the only alternative submitted to its entrenched position. An alternative which could possibly have delivered a solution without creating additional discrimination was ignored completely.

The Technical Committee’s proposal, which was eventually adopted by parliament, adds another layer of discrimination to our electoral laws. To date proportionality is only constitutionally guaranteed to political parties in a two-party parliament.  The second layer of discrimination will likewise guarantee a gender balance only when two political parties are present in parliament.

Encouraging gender balance is an important objective which I and all my colleagues share. It cannot however be the cause of creating further discrimination in our electoral legislation. This was a unique opportunity which could have been utilised by the so-called “Technical Committee for the Strengthening of Democracy” to eradicate the existent electoral discrimination rather than further strengthen it. As a result, the Technical Committee ended up strengthening the existent parliamentary duopoly.

It is unacceptable that the electoral law treats us differently from the large parties. Equality before the law is supposed to be a basic democratic principle underpinning all legislation.

The electoral system has been treating us unfairly for too long a time. Adding further to this unfairness is definitely the last straw. It is now time to address this unfairness head-on and possibly settle matters once and for all.

With this in mind we are planning to challenge constitutionally the two adjustment electoral mechanisms as both of them are designed to function as discriminatory tools.

It is however possible to have both proportionality and gender balance in our parliament without making use of discriminatory action.

Unfortunately, the PLPN duopoly have not been able to deliver fairness in our electoral system. The Courts are our only remaining hope to address and remove discrimination from electoral legislation.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 April 2021

Constitutional reform: identifying the basic building blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Voice for 5,500 votes

5500+ votes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

euros-loads-of-money

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

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

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

Minn fejn jiġu dawn il-flejjes?

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

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

Qed ngħid wieħed: għax b’dak nafu.