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.

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Pope Benedict XVI : Laying the Groundwork for a Sustainable Civilization ?

by Gary Gardner

Published by Worldwatch Institute on April 15, 2008

Rumour has it that Pope Benedict may address climate change during his visit to the United Nations this week. Whether he does or not, his young papacy can claim to be the “greenest” ever. Benedict has identified extensive common ground between sustainability concerns and a Catholic worldview – adding weight to the argument that the world’s religions could be instrumental in nudging policymakers and the public to embrace sustainability. Now, the Pope has the opportunity to further develop the links between sustainability and religious values, markedly advancing thinking in both arenas.

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, made important environmental statements during his long papacy, but Benedict is the first “green pope.” Last year, the Vatican installed solar panels on its 10,000-seat main auditorium building, and it arranged to reforest land in Hungary to offset Vatican City’s carbon emissions, making it the world’s first carbon-neutral state. And Benedict has repeatedly urged protection of the environment and action against poverty in a number of major addresses. His next encyclical (major papal teaching), due out this summer, is expected to further wrestle with environmental, social, and other themes of interest to the sustainability community.

As he embraces these themes, Benedict and the larger Catholic community could play an especially valuable role in helping to address two major influences on the environment that get too little attention today: consumption and population. (A third, technology, already receives high levels of policy focus.)

The consumption question should be comfortable ground for a modern Catholic pope, given the longstanding social and spiritual critique of consumerism in Catholic thought. For example, Pope Paul VI, in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, linked heavy consumption to injustice, declaring that, “No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life…. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

John Paul II added a spiritual dimension in Centesimus Annus in 1991, critiquing “a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,'” and urging people to “create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.” The Church’s spiritual and social teachings are rich complements to modern environmental arguments against consumerism.

Benedict’s challenge is to move longstanding Church teaching into concrete action. Despite the extensive archive of papal statements on the subject, there is no evidence that Catholics consume less or differently than anyone else. Yet given that 40 percent of the human family lives on less than $2 a day while the prosperous among us consume casually and wastefully, Catholic leadership in redefining “the good life” away from accumulation and toward greater human wellbeing and solidarity with the poor cannot come soon enough.

Benedict will need to be creative in persuading the comfortable in his Church to take consumption teachings seriously. The dramatic equivalent of solar panels on a Vatican rooftop may be needed to move prosperous Catholics to critically assess their own consumption-and to find joy in consuming less.

The other issue, population, is more difficult for a Catholic leader to tackle, especially one with Benedict’s reputation for doctrinal strictness. For Benedict and most Catholics, human reproduction is a domain infused with questions of deep personal morality. But a pontiff who appreciates the epochal nature of the sustainability crisis must surely also recognize the moral challenges raised when human numbers grow exponentially in a finite world.

How much of modern hunger, disease, poverty, and environmental degradation can be blamed on population sizes that have exceeded the carrying capacity of local, regional, and global environments? The share is unknowable, but surely not small. The challenge for Benedict will be to apply his formidable intellect to harmonize the personal and social ethics of population issues.

Benedict’s interest in sustainability issues comes not a moment too soon. The sustainability crisis is civilizational in scope and depth-and therefore a natural concern for a global institution like the Catholic Church. Should Benedict raise the twin issues of consumption and population to the level of theological and spiritual attention they deserve, he would not only advance thinking on religious ethics-but also on how to create just and environmentally sustainable societies.

Gary Gardner is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of the book Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development.