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.

Advertisements

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 

 

Kumpens doppju għaIl-PN

 PN. arma imkisra

 

Huwa tajjeb li l-Qorti Kostituzzjonali, fuq talba tal-Partit Nazzjonalista, eżaminat l-iżbalji fl-għadd tal-voti fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Avolja damet ftit iżżejjed biex waslet għal konklużjoni.

Imma l-PN, wara li ngħata żewġ siġġijiet oħra, issa spiċċa biex ingħata kumpens doppju tal-voti li kiseb fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013. Għax filwaqt li issa ħa żżewġ siġġijiet ġodda il-PN baqa bl-4 siġġijiet kumpens li kien ħa fl-2013.

Sitwazzjoni li ma nistax ngħidilha farsa, għax tad-daħq mhiex.

Imma ċertament l-anqas ma nista insejħilha ġustizzja, għax hi deċiżjoni inġusta.

Sadanittant, il-PN fil-Gvern dejjem sab diffikulta biex jaċċetta li anke Alternattiva Demokratika għandha dritt għal rappresentanza proporzjonali. Għax il-5000 vot u fuqhom li kellha Alternattiva Demokratika fl-elezzjoni tal-2013 bla dubju kellhom jissarfu f’rappresentanza ferm iktar mill-pakkett ta’ 50 vot ta’ Claudette Buttigieg!

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN u l-proporzjonalitá

constitution-article-521

Il-Qorti Kostituzzjonali tat deċiżjoni dwar l-ilment kostituzzjonali tal-PN u iddeċidiet illi l-PN għandu jingħata żewġ siġġijiet addizzjonali fil-Parlament. Din hi d-deċiżjoni finali tal-Qrati Maltin dwar il-każ, u allura issa ser tkun implimentata.

Hi deċiżjoni li jixirqiha kull rispett, imma dan ir-rispett ma jfissirx li hi deċiżjoni tajba, għax fil-fatt hi deċiżjoni żbaljata. Għax ma kellhomx jiżdiedu s-siġġijiet, imma kellhom jitnaqqsu! Il-calculator tal-Prim Imħallef ħa żball. Kulħadd jista jiżbalja, mhux hekk?

Ovvjament il-Partit Nazzjonalista bħalissa qiegħed jippontifika dwar il-proporzjonalitá bejn voti miksuba u siġġijiet mirbuħa fil-Parlament. Peró l-proporzjonalitá li jemmen fiha l-PN hi dik bejn il-PN u l-Labour. Din wasslet biex għal żball ta’ ħamsin vot il-PN jippretendi żewġ siġġijiet Parlamentari, imma fl-istess ħin il-5506 vot fl-ewwel għadd ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fl-aħħar elezzjoni ġenerali huma injorati.

Sewwa, 50 vot, skond il-PN, jixirqilhom rappresentanza imma 5506 vot għandhom ikunu injorati.

Ser ikun hemm min iwieġibni u jgħidli: jekk Alternattiva Demokratika jidhriha xi ħaġa messha tmur il-Qorti hi ukoll. It-tweġiba tiegħi hi waħda ċara: Alternattiva Demokratika diġá għandha parir legali li meta l-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta tipprovdi għal proporzjonalitá unikament għal żewġ partiti u tinjora lil bqija din qegħda tiddiskrimina.

Nafu li għandna raġun.

Il-problema hi biss li l-establishment jaħsibha mod ieħor. Meta jidhrilna li jkun il-mument opportun, nieħdu l-passi neċessarji.

Is-siġġijiet tal-PN fil-Parlament

PN seats

Għaddej ħafna paroli bħalissa dwar dawk iż-żewġ siġġijiet li l-Qorti ordnat lill-Kummissjoni Elettorali biex tagħti lill-PN.

L-istorja hi ħafna iktar ikkumplikata minn hekk.

Fl-elezzjoni ġenerali tal-2013 il-Partit Laburista rebaħ 39 siġġu Parlamentari u l-PN rebaħ 26. Dwar tnejn mis-siġġijiet li rebaħ il-Partit Laburista kien hemm l-iżbalji. Qed nirreferi għas-siġġu Parlamentari li rebaħ Edward Scicluna fuq id-Distrett ta’ B’Kara (8) u għas-siġġu Parlamentari fuq id-Distrett ta’ Għawdex (13) li rebħet Justyne Caruana. Li kieku ma sarux l-iżbalji flokhom kienu jitilgħu Claudette Buttigieg u Fredrick Azzopardi.

X’għandu jiġri mela? Il-loġika tgħidlek li jekk il-Qorti ikkonfermat l-iżball il-Kummissjoni Elettorali għandha tkun ordnata tikkoreġi l-iżball.

Hemm mod wieħed kif jiġi ikkoreġut l-iżball. Dan isir billi ir-riżultat finali issirlu korrezzjoni. Fit-tmien Distrett flok Edward Sicicluna titla’ Claudette Buttigieg u fit-Tlettax-il Distrett flok Justyne Caruana jitla’ Fredrick Azzopardi. Dan ifisser ukoll li r-riżultat finali flok ma jaqra 39 siġġu għall-PL u 26 siġġu għall-PN jibda jaqra 37 siġġu għall-PL u 28 siġġu għall-PN.

Id-differenza ta’ siġġijiet bejn il-PN u l-PL ma tibqax 13 imma issa issir 9. Dan kollu jfisser li wieħed ikun irid jara mill-ġdid jekk ikunx hemm ħtieġa illi tkun applikata l-emenda Kostituzzjonali li tirrestawra l-proporzjonalita’ billi iżżid is-siġġijiet.

Mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ AD dwar bidliet fil-Kostituzzjoni: (2) Riforma Elettorali

(2)    Riforma Elettorali

Malta għandu jkollha sistema elettorali bbażata fuq rappreżentanza proporzjonali assoluta bejn siġġijiet u voti mitfugħa f’elezzjoni, ikkoreġġuti b’għatba ta’ 2.5%. Dan il-prinċipju jista’ jinkiseb bl-istess Sistema ta’ Vot Trasferibbli filwaqt li jitwessa’ l-mekkaniżmu Kostituzzjonali attwali li jiżgura proporzjonalità stretta bejn l-għadd ta’ voti u siġġijiet u li jimxi minn wieħed li japplika biss f’każijiet fejn żewġ partiti biss jiġu eletti fil-Parlament, għal wieħed li japplika għall-partiti kollha li jaqbżu l-għatba nazzjonali ta’ 2.5% tal-ewwel għadd tal-voti. Malta għalhekk għandha jkollha għatba doppja, bi kwota distrettwali ta’ 16.6% li tippermetti li individwu jiġi elett minn distrett, u kwota nazzjonali b’għatba ekwivalenti ghal żewġ kwoti biex partit politiku jiġi rrappreżentat fil-Parlament.

………………………….

Id-dritt li ċ-ċittadini jikkontestaw l-elezzjonijiet lokali, ġenerali u Ewropej għandu jkun inkorporat fil-Kostituzzjoni u mhux imħolli f’idejn il-konvenjenza tal-gvern tal-ġurnata.

(siltiet mill-Kapitlu Numru 6 tal-Programm Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika)

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