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

Lessons from Ireland : cross party voting

Following the counting process of the Irish General Election was a pleasant experience. Ireland too, like Malta, makes use of the Single Transferable vote.

Once more, the Irish voter made an intelligent use of his/her vote and elected a Parliament with a plurality of political parties as well as independents. When the counting process was concluded 8 different political parties and 19 independents were represented in the Irish parliament: the Dáil.

In order to arrive at this result the Irish voter was very selective as to the manner of voting. The choices made, not just at first count stage, but, more importantly at subsequent counts, indicates the mind frame of the Irish voter in switching his/her vote from one party to the other whenever there was a need for a vote to be transferred.

This cross-party voting ensures that every vote cast is valued in the order of priority established by the voter himself. This is an advantage of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) which the average Maltese voter, so far, does not use adequately.

Even without changes to the electoral system to apply the proportionality rule to all political parties, the STV makes it possible to return a plurality of voices to Malta’s Parliament if the voter does use the powerful tools at hand.

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 


Is-sistema elettorali tagħna

 general election 2013.counting


Reġa’ beda l-argument ta’ dawk li jaħsbu li l-Partit Nazzjonalista hu l-uniku alternattiva għall-Partit Laburista fil-Gvern. Għal dawn, l-eżistenza ta’ iktar minn żewġ partiti politiċi hi ħela u l-kawża ta’ frammentazzjoni tal-voti. Jiġifieri, dawn isostnu li minħabba f’hekk, il-voti f’elezzjoni ġenerali jinfirxu għalxejn.

Jippretendu li hemm xi obbligu li jekk ma tridx lil Joseph għandek tivvota lil Simon, u jekk ma tridx lil Simon għandek tivvota lil Joseph. Ma jirrealizzawx li għal numru ta’ votanti, la Joseph u l-anqas Simon [u l-partiti tagħhom] ma huma għażla li tixraq li dan il-pajjiz.

Is-sistema elettorali tagħna sarilha diversi tibdil fiha tul iż-żmien. Tibdil intenzjonat bħala rimedju kontra t-tbagħbis tad-distretti. Minkejja d-difetti fit-tibdil li sar (proporzjonalità riżervata għal żewġ partiti biss, pero mhux dejjem), is-sistema elettorali xorta għadha waħda magħmula apposta biex ikunu inkoraġġiti ħafna partiti. Ma hemm bżonn l-ebda tibdil fil-liġijiet elettorali biex fil-Parlament ikollna tlieta, erbgħa jew ħames partiti, kif fil-fatt, wara kollox kellna fis-snin 60. Jiddependi biss mill-volontà tal-elettorat biex bis-sistema elettorali ta’ vot singlu trasferibbli jkollna Parlament b’iktar minn żewġ partiti.

Is-sistema ta’ żewġ partiti kienet għażla tal-votanti li, meta jridu, jistgħu jerġgħu iwarrbuha kif fil-fatt għamlu diversi drabi tul is-snin.

Riċentment, fi Frar 2016, fl-Irlanda, li għandha sistema elettorali li hi sostanzjalment bħal tagħna, ġie elett Parlament li mhux biss fih tmien partiti politiċi imma ukoll numru ta’ membri parlamentari indipendenti (19-il wieħed).  Dan isir minħabba li l-votanti Irlandiżi, b’responsabbiltà kbira, wara li jagħtu l-ewwel preferenzi lill-kandidati tal-partit li jappoġġaw ikomplu l-vot tagħhom fuq kandidati ta’ partiti oħra jew fuq kandidati indipendenti. F’Malta ftit wisq huma dawk li jivvutaw b’dan il-mod, peró dan mhux bil-fors li jibqa’ hekk.

Dan kollu qed ngħidu minħabba kitbiet fi tmiem il-ġimgħa ta’ min jidhirlu illi jekk ma taqbilx ma Joseph għandek bil-fors tappoġġa lil Simon. Tista’ ma tappoġġa lil ħadd minnhom. Is-sistema elettorali tagħna dan tippermettilek li tagħmlu u jekk ikun hemm biżżejjed votanti li jaħsbuha bħalek l-għażla tiegħek tista’ tkun rappreżentata fil-Parlament. Jekk ma jkunx hemm biżżejjed min jaħsibha bħalek, il-vot tiegħek jgħaddi għal fuq il-preferenza li jmiss, preferenza magħżula minnek stess.

Tħallix lil min iqarraq bik kif forsi għamlu f’elezzjonijiet oħra. Ħadd m’għandu jwarrab biex jagħmel il-wisa’ la għal Joseph u l-anqas għal Simon. Hemm wisa’ għal kulħadd.

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)


7 days


Well over 66% of AD voters in the 2008 general elections did not vote just for an AD candidate. Thereafter they voted for candidates of other parties as well.

Most AD voters already practice cross-party voting in general elections. They already cross over from one party to another when voting.

It is not only AD voters which practice cross-party voting. Even PN and PL voters do so although not as often as one would wish.

Our electoral system is specifically designed so that cross-party voting is possible. Voting across party lines can ensure that you select the best candidates in the different political parties. It is a very healthy political tool at your disposal.

After giving your number 1 to an AD candidate you can then proceed with giving your 2nd preference to any other candidate, irrespective whether he or she is on the PN or the PL list.

Similarly if your giving your number 1 vote to a PN or a PL candidate you may proceed with giving your 2nd preference to an AD candidate. It is a very useful way of voting. It has in fact been in use since 1921 when the present system of voting was introduced in Malta.

Cross party voting is a right. Use it well.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (17) Electoral Reform

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 6 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Malta should have an electoral system based on absolute proportional representation between seats and votes cast in elections subject to a 2.5% threshold. This principle could be achieved by retaining the Transferable Vote System while widening the current constitutional mechanism ensuring strict proportionality between number of votes and seats from one which applies only in cases where two parties are elected to parliament, to one which applies to all parties surpassing the national threshold of 2.5% of 1st count votes. Malta should therefore have a double threshold, with a district quota of 16.6% that would allow an individual to be elected on her/his own steam for one’s district and a national quota with a threshold of 2.5%, equivalent to two quotas for a party to be represented in Parliament.
L-Estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Kapitlu 6 tal-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika

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.