Our vote: a powerful instrument for change

Our vote is much more powerful than we can ever imagine. Our electoral system provides for a transferability of the votes cast through a system of preferences. Our electoral system is in fact known as the single transferable vote (STV).

This means that we cast our vote by indicating the candidate which gets our first preference by denoting the number one next to his/her name. Subsequently we continue with other consecutive preferences. As a result, if at any point our preferred candidate does not require our vote, this proceeds to being utilised by the candidate which we indicate as our second preference. If required the vote can even move on to being utilised by candidates which we would have indicated as being our additional but later preferences. This happens all the time during all the elections organised in this country.

There is no uniform way as to how voters proceed to determine their voting preferences. After identifying the first preference some limit themselves to assigning their preferences to the candidates of just one political party, ignoring the rest. Some limit themselves to a couple of names on one party list and ignore the rest.

Others, pick and choose across party lines. Hence the term “cross-party voting”. Every voter has this right: some use it, others are not even aware of its availability.

The Parliamentary parties are not enthusiastic about “cross-party voting” except when they benefit directly. They consider that it dilutes their strength. In fact, they continuously seek to discourage such a practice by spreading around the admonition, during election time, that this practice could invalidate your vote! This is done to reduce, as much as possible, voter leakage.

On the other hand, ADPD has always encouraged cross-party voting as such a practice genuinely gives value to every candidate on the ballot paper. This is the manner which can help us elect the best possible representatives wherever they are needed.

In fact, some of those who vote ADPD tend to vote across party lines habitually. The percentage of those who vote in this manner varies from one election to another. It also varies by district and locality. Around 33 per cent of ADPD voters, on average, identify preferences on the ballot paper which go beyond green candidates. At times the preferences they select have had a determining effect on the result.

This goes to show the strength and impact of each individual vote. It is the mature way to use your vote thereby ensuring that it is effective for as long as possible throughout the electoral cycle.  We should not only respect those who act in this manner: their behaviour should be encouraged as it delivers good results for all.

All this is being stated to explain why I have submitted my candidature for the casual election due tomorrow Monday 14 November 2022 as a result of Albert Buttiġieġ resigning from the St Julian’s Local Council  after being elected as a Member of Parliament.

Last Wednesday I submitted my nomination as a sign of respect towards all St Julian’s voters, and in particular those who have unchained themselves from partisan prejudice and voted accordingly.  The political party which I lead has always maintained that our vote can and should be utilised beyond the artificial limitations which the parliamentary political parties seek to impose. Contrary to the stand taken by the parliamentary parties we have always encouraged that voting is carried out in a non-restrictive manner such that it is possible to value all candidates without being hampered by their political allegiance.

Voters who act in this manner, refusing to be restricted in the manner in which they exercise their voting rights deserve to be respected. In these circumstances not contesting a casual election is not an option for me, even though I am aware that the possibilities are limited. In these circumstances contesting is a duty.

In selecting their preferred candidates some of the voters switch their vote from one political party to another. When the votes for the 2019 St Julians Local Council elections were counted, at second count stage it resulted that 6.33% of the votes obtained by candidate Albert Buttigieg had their second preference assigned to candidates of the other political parties. This is reflected in the manner in which the surplus votes of Albert Buttiġieġ were distributed. Most probably this will be repeated during the casual election counting process. In fact, it happens continuously during other elections as well.

I am not aware as to what lies in store in the sealed packets containing the electoral quota of Albert Buttiġieġ. The numbers involved are small: the full quota contains just 390 votes. The quota for the casual election will therefore be 196 votes.

The casual election result may be determined by the number of voters who decide to make full use of the power of their vote. Some have, most probably, first voted for all the PN candidates and thereafter proceeded to vote for one or more of the candidates presented by the other political parties, including yours truly.  Others will have selected other options.

This is the strength of our electoral system which is not always appreciated. In this context our vote is a tool for positive change.

We need to respect our voters, knowing what they go through to express their preferences for political change through their vote.  These voters motivate me in my political work, including in the decision to contest this casual election which has been described as an unusual political step.

Irrespective of the result I am humbled by the experience, and as always submit myself to the will of the voters.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 November 2022

Parties in cahoots with squatters

Earlier this month, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment and planning commission, which deals with applications outside the development zone, turned down an application by Enemalta Corporation for the construction of a substation at L-Aħrax in the limits of Mellieħa. The planning directorate itself had recommended the refusal of this application.

This substation aimed at reinforcing the supply of electricity in L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa with Enemalta effectively posting the message that the crime of taking over public property does pay.

While Alternattiva Demokratika and seven environmental NGOs opposed this application, both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have not uttered one single word on Enemalta’s attempt at ensuring that the squatters are adequately supplied with electricity. Clearly, the PN and the PL think that being silent is essential in view of their commitments to purchase votes through squatters taking over public property.

The PL and the PN have not taken up the challenge spelt out by the greens to go public on their position relative to the illegal development of boathouses at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa, that is at Armier, Little Armier and It-Torri l-Abjad.

During the Mepa reform exercise, the Prime Minister repeatedly emphasised that “ODZ is ODZ”, meaning that no development will be authorised or permitted outside the development zone unless really necessary.

Dr Gonzi tried to convey the message that his safe pair of hands would ensure that abusive development would now grind to a halt. Yet, on the eve of the 2008 general election, Dr Gonzi participated in secret meetings with the illegal boathouse lobby which considers that its members have some god-given right over the public land that they have taken hold of. The result of those meetings was a PN commitment to protect illegal development carried out before 1992 on public land.

At stake are 230 tumoli of land (26 hectares), which, since way back in 2003, on the eve of another election, the PN-led government had agreed to transfer to the squatters’ holding company, Armier Developments Limited. The agreement between the government and the squatters’ holding company indicates a lease for 65 years against payment of €366,000 per annum. To date, this agreement has not been submitted for Parliament’s approval in terms of the Disposal of Government Land Act.

The squatters also expected the PL to protect their illegal constructions, which agreement was forthcoming. The newsletter Il-Bajja, published by the squatters, in October 2007 had referred to a meeting with the then Leader of the Opposition, Alfred Sant. It said that he had promised to honour an earlier agreement with the squatters, which was entered into way back in 2002.

As far as is known, Joseph Muscat has not repudiated Labour’s agreement with the squatters.

During this legislature, Minister Jason Azzopardi has embarked on a crusade of evicting squatters from public property including clearing squares and pavements of encroachments by restaurants and open air cafés. His staff members were meticulous in ensuring that an extra chair or table not covered by a permit was removed forthwith.

While noting and acting on the odd chair or table, Dr Azzopardi has turned the Nelson’s eye to the large-scale use of public land by the squatters at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieha. In so doing, he has applied the policy of being strong with the weak and weak with the strong.

Former Minister Michael Falzon wrote in an article entitled They Never Heard Of Jason Azzopardi (Malta Today, February 15, 2009) that he (Mr Falzon) was not supported by his Cabinet colleagues when, as the minister responsible for land use planning, he tried to clean up the Mellieħa boathouse mess. He was left “to burn my fingers alone, nay, my palms, arms and body. The lack of support from my then Cabinet colleagues – let alone the then backbench – was overwhelming. I could almost hear them chant: ‘Burn, Michael, burn!’”

It is clear that the PN is committed to supporting the illegal development on public land. By being silent on the issue, Labour too supports the PN’s stand without any reservations.

This is the new politics of Labour and the PN: being in cahoots with the squatters in order to exchange votes for public land, which they have occupied illegally for years. It is an issue on which PL and PN policies converge!

The environmental NGOs campaigning for a resolution of the illegal development at L-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa undoubtedly understand that there is only one way through which the land used by the squatters is restored and returned to public ownership and use. This can only be achieved through the election of green members of Parliament. The others are committed to supporting the squatters as they have been doing throughout the years.

There is no other way. If you seek real change, voting green is the only option. The others are compromised.

published in The Times on Saturday January 21, 2012