Leader of the Opposition

Adrian Delia is frantically fighting a race against time. It has become increasingly evident that his gamble for leadership of the nationalist party did not include the foresight or plan that would account for the fact that he needs to find a way to get into parliament. This lack of foresight does not bode well for the nationalist party – that it is lead by someone unable to make the most simple of calculations is not exactly a bright light for the future. If my sources are right, plan B for Delia and his entourage seems to be the harassing of a number of MPs that are judged as most likely to want (or to be forced) to give up their seat and make way for the half-heartedly anointed one. It is a clumsy and roundabout way of doing things that jars conspicuously with the declared marketing of TeamDelia of wanting to unite the party behind Adrian as quickly as possible.

Unwitting supporters have even been asked to turn their guns onto the PD as though the damned coalition meant that the Democratic Party owed the Nationalist Party anything other than collaboration in parliament against the forces of corruption. Kudos to Marlene Farrugia who has strongly retorted that she will not be turned in this respect and that the PD will jump at any chance to take the place of any MP who chooses to call it quits and force a by-election. Of course Delia and his team will choose to take this opportunity to ride roughshod over the concept of coalition and collaboration – hatred of anything the coalition was about is after all one of the hallmarks of Delia’s New Way. So much for a deeper understanding of the changes that are necessary in the way politics is made.

But what about the Holy Grail position of the Leader of the Opposition? Well, constitutionally we are in a bit of a conundrum. First of all, none of the conditions that create a vacancy of the position of Leader of Opposition (Article 90(3) of the Constitution) has been fulfilled so technically since Simon Busuttil is still a member of the House of Representatives and consequently has not vacated the position. Let us assume that by informing the President of his intention to no longer lead the nationalist party, Simon Busuttil has de facto given up his place as Leader of the Opposition that he occupied under the terms of 90(2)(a) of the Constitution. In that case, until Delia manages to find a way into Parliament we can try to see who can legitimately fill that constitutional role come the 1st of October. Whichever scenario you take, whether it is under article 90(2)(a) (the MP who leads the opposition party with the largest number of members) or under article 90(4) (If, in the judgment of the President, a member of the House of Representatives other than the Leader of the Opposition, has become the Leader in the House of the opposition party having the greatest numerical strength in the House) – in both cases the Leader of the Opposition is (a) a member of the house and (b) commands/leads the largest number of opposition members. In the absence of the party leader (Adrian Delia) the obvious constitutional choice until the dilemma is solved is to nominate the Deputy Leader for Parliamentary matters (Mario DeMarco) as the Leader of the Opposition.

Sure, it can be a strange situation where the Leader of the Party is not the same person as the Leader of the Opposition but this does not mean that it cannot and will not work. As I said, Delia should have foreseen this situation before he decided to throw in his name as a leadership candidate. It’s not like he was not asked the question as from the start of his campaign. Even a minimum of constitutional knowledge would have told him that no MP on any side of the house owes any party anything. The seats are not theirs to give – they have been elected by their constituents and owe them the duty of representation. Giving up that seat for a man who only three months ago was unwilling to represent any part of the nation would be a betrayal of their constituents of the highest order.

I am quite sure that in the end one MP will be found who will give in to the heavy handed tactics of TeamDelia. It does not bode well at all though. It is one thing to elbow your way into the leadership of a party, it is another altogether to bulldoze your way into a constitutional position without the least bit of deference to the constitutional principles that underlie a constitutional democracy.

 

 


La elección nos absolverá.

 

For a fleeting moment, during a run up to an election and even after its inevitable aftermath, the nationalist party (and the wider coalition that had been formed) had seemed to be the best option to fight corruption and begin the much needed process of constitutional change. We were conscious that this was a work in progress. The gamble on Simon Busuttil’s PN and Marlene Farrugia’s PD was in many ways dictated by circumstance. Other advocates for change were not convinced even by this coalition. They expected, rightly or wrongly, an even greater change than a party that seemed to be led by a leader who seemed to have had a last minute damascene vision and another leader who seemed (in their opinion) to have turned one time too many. In the fog of “war” that is an electoral campaign we had not time to count these losses – though their opinion and vote was important: they too, after all want the real change.

Winners, they say, write history and the losers of elections are condemned to confused assessments and the interpretation of garbled information. The new parliament got a confused PD partner sending the wrong messages to anybody who had hoped that the coalition would serve its purposes. Marlene Farrugia, having made history as the first representative of a third party to be elected to parliament for a very long time, segued into a rosary of mixed messages that betrayed a lack of identity, a loss of sense of purpose and – to a large extent – showed her up as unable to use the tools of democracy in order to achieve her purpose.

The Nationalist Party meanwhile was in absolute meltdown. The crisis of identity that had been forced upon it by Simon Busuttil’s new switch for change began to unfold. Did the party really want to go in that direction? Was change and the battle against corruption worth this “suffering”? That was the choice being faced by the hardcore nationalist voter. The nostalgia for the PN victories of the past was misread as the need to revert to being the PN of the past – the one that thrives on the partisan structure that has been tattoed into our constitution. They nostalgia is for the banner, the hymn, the religio et patria but not for the most crucial element that had allowed the coalition of ideas that the PN has always been to be successful. What element is that? The ability to be on the right side of history, the ability to decide for the future and for future generations, the ability to be a party with a goal, a party with a soul.

That element was too hard to grasp. Especially after the second successive electoral loss. The PN core wanted an easy way out. It’s easy to see why. The reasoning is in competitive terms – not value oriented. In the days of post-truth politics values count much less than results. These are the days when an election will wipe accountability away with one fell swoop. Caught red-handed with accounts in Panama? Not fit for purpose? We’ll let the people decide, and a landslide victory later means that you are absolved of all crimes and free from any suspicion of corruption. A história me absolverá? Scratch that Fidel, our modern politicians cannot wait for history, it’s more like la elección me absolverá. The obsession with victory for victory’s sake – as they had been groomed to expect over years of partisan evolution meant that they would bay for a hopeful who would bring back those days of relativism, cynical pragmatism and yes, why not, employ some of the winning tactics that until now seem to have been the domain of the Labour party.

Delia is a godsend to the PN core. He takes offence when he is told that he risks making the PN look like a Labour clone. He misunderstands the why and how of that accusation. It is not because he has any secret plan of conniving and confabulating with Muscat and the Panama crowd. It is because the so called New Way is a choice to revert to the ever so familiar PLPN style of politics that has gotten us into the mess where we are. It is because his election is a clear message that the PN has abdicated from the real cause for change that is needed. Of course there is no harm in that for the PN core. They never stood for national aspirations. They stand for the preservation of the party. For its supposed rise from the ashes and return to running the country in that damned alternation with the other side of the partisan farce.

Where does that leave us? After yesterday’s step backwards we revert to being the minority of minorities, the unrepresented few who strive against all odds to force a mental shift upon a nation. Today we have less faith in the ability of fellow citizens to make choices weighed upon a better future. Today, a solution to the problem and to the need for change seems further than ever. We cannot be part of this PN. Not without a clear commitment to the change – constitutional and moral – that is needed.

Right now the only solution seems to be some future crisis that forces change as an inevitable option. It is sad to have come to this point but in many ways, and if we are to respect the democratic nature of our system, it is the only way in which the partisan elements upon which the real establishment feeds will open their eyes and notice the dangerous tightrope walk they have chosen to engage with.

This blog returns to the place it has always been: a voice for the unrepresented few who still yearn for change and reform.

The truth, if I lie.


Ittra miftuħa lil tesserat tal-partit nazzjonalista li se jivvota għada

 

Għażiż tesserat,

Wisq probabbli ma nafekx u jekk nafek m’aħniex ħbieb minn ta’ ġewwa (kif jgħidu… ma nieklux kirxa flimkien). Xorta nixtieqek tippermettili ngħidlek kelma … tismagħni… kif sar wisq moda li ngħidu f’dawn iż-żmienijiet. Għandi xi ngħidlek u nixtieq ngħidulek għax il-vot tiegħek għada jikkonċernani ukoll – din id-darba iktar minn qatt qabel.

Forsi smajt bijja, forsi le. Blogger ukoll jien. Wieħed minn ta’ l-ewwel kieku – bdejt nibbloggja fl-10 ta’ Marzu 2005 u kont minn ta’ l-ewwel li għaraft l-utilita’ ta’ dan il-mezz tax-xandir f’Malta. Jafuni bħala l-akkuża għax biex għażilt isem is-sit tiegħi tnebbaħt minn kittieb u attivist franċiż ta’ żewġ sekli ilu li ma kienx jaf jżomm sieket quddiem inġustizzji. Emile Zola kien kiteb ittra miftuħa – magħrufa bħala J’accuse – fejn kien akkuża lill-istabbiliment u gvern tan-nuqqasijiet tagħħom u kixef il-ksur tal-liġi minn naħa tagħhom speċjalment fejn naqsu milli jirrispettaw id-dinjita’ tal-bniedem. Jien minix bi ħsiebni nakkuża lil ħadd illum. Kemm ngħidlek pero li kemm ilni nibbloggja ilni inwissi li s-sistema tal-partiti li għandna illum (sistema li saħansitra ġiet ikkonsolidata fil-kostituzzjoni u l-ogħla liġijiet ta’ pajjiżna) se twassal għal tiġrija lejn il-qiegħ.

Is-Sewwa

Iva. Sa mill-bidu (u anki qabel ma kont nikteb fi blog) kont għaraft li l-partiti ta’ pajjiżna ma huma xejn ħlief magni meħjuma u mibnijin biex isarrfu l-aspirazzjonijiet ta’ l-ambizzjużi fil-kilba tagħhom għall-poter. Kont għaraft li bilmod il-mod kienu ħallew warajhom il-prinċipji jew valuri li suppost kienu iħaddnu u minflok saru parti minn xibka dejjem titwessa ta’ interessi pekunjarji. Pajjiżna ma kienx baqagħlu min imexxih għaliex ma kienx għad baqa’ ideat imsejsa fuq valuri u proġetti għal futur aħjar għas-soċjeta. Minflok, kull ma jmur, rajna jiżviluppaw ġenerazzjoni ta’ politiċi li jgħixu biss għal din il-magna: biex jisquha u biex jieklu minnha.

Għal ħafna żmien kont (u sa ċertu punt għadni) nemmen li l-uniku ħaġa li twassal għal bidla ta vera fil-pajjiż kienet tkun il-mewt tal-partiti l-kbar. Minkejja li kien kważi impossibbli, għal ħafna żmien kont nemmen li jekk tielet u raba partit jirnexxilhom jiżżerżqu bejn iż-żewġ partiti l-kbar forsi kien jitkisser iċ-ċirku vizzjuż. Iż-żmien għadda u ċ-ċirkostanzi inbidlu. Fl-aħħar elezzjoni, konxju tal-qiegħda imwiergħa tal-pajjiż f’dak li għandu x’jaqsam mal-breakdown istituzzjonali u l-firxa ta’ korruzzjoni, għażilt li nitfa’ il-ftit piż tiegħi wara l-koalizzjoni li kienet qed twiegħed bidla. Konvint li ħafna ma fehmux li l-koalizzjoni ma kenitx is-soluzzjoni imma kienet l-uniku għażla li kien għad baqa’ f’tentattiv iddisprat li jirbaħ is-sewwa fuq il-korruzzjoni, fuq it-tmermir istituzzjonali. Il-koalizzjoni tal-Forza Nazzjonali kienet il-bogħod milli tkun perfetta u bagħtiet ħafna minħabba l-indifferenza ta’ bosta lejn l-idea li wieħed imur oltre l-idea ta’ partit wieħed, klassiku.

Nafu kif spiċċat dik l-istorja. Niżbaljaw pero’ jekk naħsbu li l-ħsieb wara l-koalizzjoni, l-ħsieb wara l-għaqda kontra l-korruzzjoni kien wieħed ħażin sempliċement għax ma rebaħx elezzjoni. Is-sewwa mhux dejjem jirbaħ. Għallinqas mhux mill-ewwel u speċjalment meta isib kontrih il-magni tal-korruzzjoni, tal-klijenteliżmu u taċ-ċejċa. Iktar u iktar mhux se jirbaħ meta kull ma jmur qed naraw li l-elettorat (jew il-biċċa tiegħu li tgħodd numerikament biex jifforma gvern) jippreferi fuq kollox il-filosofija ta’ l-aqwa li jiena sew. Anki meta iffaċċjat bl-iktar każijiet ovvji ta’ korruzzjoni. Anki meta t-tmermir sistemiku tal-pajjiż li se jħallu lil uliedhom qiegħed f’wiċċhom.

Ftit paċenzja oħra u ismagħni, tesserat. Il-partit tiegħek qiegħed fejn qiegħed illum għax għażel li ma jilgħabx il-logħba faċli u populista. Taħt Simon Busuttil għażel li jkun fuq quddiem bl-għajta kontra l-korruzzjoni. Din mhix sempliċement kwistjoni ta’ fejn sejrin il-flus. Din kwistjoni ta’ fejn sejjer il-pajjiż.. fejn jagħżel li se jkun ħames u għaxar snin oħra. Busuttil kien il-mexxej fis-siegħa tal-bżonn tal-partit… bid-difetti tiegħu ukoll, b’dik l-oratorija daqxejn irritanti, dik l-arja ta’ abbatin naqra iktar irritanti IMMA Busuttil għamel bħal ma għamel ħafna drabi il-partit nazzjonalista fil-passat. Għażel triq tas-sewwa. It-triq bla kompromessi. Issa kullħadd għaddej ġmielu jirrepeti il-mantra laburista – li kien wisq negattiv. Ma nistax nimmaġina pero x’ippretendew li jagħmel jekk mhux li jaġixxi kif għandha tagħmel oppożizzjoni vera li tkun għassa tal-prinċipji bażiċi ta’ rappreżentanza u demokrazija.

M’inix nazzjonalist

M’inix nazzjonalist u wisq inqas ma jien tesserat. Personalment ma nemminx f’tesseri ta’ sħubija f’partiti politiċi, speċjalment taħt is-sistema Maltija. Meta niġi biex nivvota nara x’qed jgħidu u joffru l-kandidati u nagħżel dak il-ħin. M’għandi l’ebda lealta’ għamja. Fl-1991 pero bdejt fil-politika fil-partit nazzjonalista. Proprjament konna grupp ta’ xi 30 żgħażugħ u żgħażugħa li ifformajna l-MZPN Għawdex. Konna attivi fil-laqgħat ta’ djalogu fi żmien it-tkattir u twessiegħ ta’ prinċipji veri. Tiftakarhom forsi : Solidarjeta’… dejjem… kullimkien. Sussidjarjeta’. Kien żmien li Malta mingħalina bdejna nedukaw rwieħna dwar it-tħaddim ta’ soċjeta miftuħa u demokratika. Ta’ sbatax il sena tkellimt f’laqgħa ta djalogu f’Marsalforn u niftakar li Eddie kien ikkongratulani (żgur bħal ma kien jinkoraġġixxi lil kullħadd) dwar id-diskors tiegħi dwar kif l-għaqdiet għawdxin għandhom jiġbdu ħabel wieħed.

Dak iż-żmien imexxi grupp ta’ żgħażagħ ħabrieka kellna lil Chris Said. Ilħaqt imbagħad tbiegħdt mill-partit għax ħassejt dik il-mewġa ġejja bilmod. Dik l-istess mewġa li issa tissemma għax iddejjaq lil ħafna. L-arroganza, in-nuqqas ta’ smiegħ, is-suspett li hemm klikkek kontra klikkek u kullħadd jiġbed għal djul għajnu. Dejjaqni ħafna ukoll għax kont bdejt nara partit li waqaf ikun mexxej fl-ideat. Minflok, waqt li kien jinħeba wara ħafna paroli ta’ smiegħ u valuri kien minflok spiċċa ukoll ikun populista Kont tinduna mill-kandidati li jintagħżlu mhux għax tajbin jew għax għandhom kwalitajiet u ispirazzjonijiet politiċi tajbin imma għax iġibu xi vot jew tnejn. Imbagħad tara fazzjonijiet jiffurmaw biex t-tali jilħaq ministru, t-tali għandu n-nies “tiegħu” u kull ma jmur tinduna li l-politika ftit li xejn tissarraf f’ideat oltre l-ħsieb ta’ lukru.

Imbagħad kien hemm il-mument fejn il-PN nixef għal kollox mill-ideat. Kien il-mument wara li Malta ssieħbet fl-Ewropa. Ma kien baqa l-ebda utopia għall-futur li tipprovdi l-metru tal-ħidma politika. Kaxkarna ftit ieħor taħt il-gwida għaqlija ta’ Lawrence Gonzi pero il-partit kien ilu li spiċċa minn ġewwa. Il-kollass kien se jasal minn mument għall-ieħor. U wasal meta sab il-mostru tal-klijenteliżmu quddiemu. Il-fenomenu Muscat kollha nafuh. M’huwiex fenomenu interessanti għal min jemmen fid-demokrazija u fil-valuri tal-liġi tad-dritt. Huwa fenomenu inkredibbli minħabba s-suċċess li kellu darbtejn fuq partit li kien ilu li għaddielu l-expiry date.

Futur fis-Sewwa

Daqt nispiċċa tibżax. Għada int mistieden tagħżel il-“kap” tal-partit. L-għażla issa bejn tnejn. Hemm Adrian Delia illi jidher li qed jikseb popolarita’ b’rata mgħaġġla. Miss qalb ħafna minnkom, forsi anki lilek, speċjalment meta flok spjega fil-konkret kif se jbiddel il-partit intefa jlissen kliem l-innu psewdo-faxxista tal-partit. Għad hawn ħafna li mhux qed jifhmu d-dieqa li jħossu u li jaħsbu li l-malinkonija tagħħom – “l-uġiegħ” kif iħobbu jgħidu – huwa frott tat-“telf” li ġarrbu dan l-aħħar. Li mhumiex jindunaw hu li dak li jonqoshom m’huwiex partit li jirbaħ imma partit li jaġħżel is-sewwa bħal ma kien fil-passat. Għadhom irrabjati għaliex ma “rebħux” l-aħħar elezzjoni u jemmnu li allura din tal-korruzzjoni bilfors kienet gidba – xi spin qarrieqi u li għalhekk issa huma itturufnati fil-wied tad-dmugħ. Kliem Delia sabiħ f’dan id-dawl għax iwiegħed rebħ u tiġdid u li ma jibqax ikun partit (fi kliemu) “negattiv”. Attent pero tesserat. Anki meta tqis il-partit qabel il-pajjiż nistiednek tqis sew.

Il-partit nazzjonalista (u kull partit ieħor) m’huwiex l-innu, m’huwiex il-carcade, m’huwiex il-pick and mix ta’ valuri konservattivi biex kumbinazzjoni jintogħġob  mas-saff tal-elettorat li huwa maggoranza fost it-tesserati (over 60s), m’huwiex bandiera jew simboli. Tista’ iddum issabbat fuq sidrek u tgħajjat b’rabja qisek Mikiel Falzon isejjaħ l-iljuni. Il-partit veru hu dak li jagħraf jinseġ storja ta’ valuri li tkompli tibni fuq kisbiet passati. Li tiċċita x-xogħol, ġustizzja u liberta, is-solidarjeta, u d-djalogu ma hux kliem fierah imma il-bidu ta’ riforma ġdida li xogħla għandha tkun li ttejjeb id-determinazzjoni ta’ saff importanti tal-poplu li għal darba oħra ikun it-tarka ta’ dak li hemm bżonn għall-futur ta’ nazzjon.

Biex temmen f’dan kollu trid tkun tħaddan il-politika umana bħala punt ta’ tluq u tħaddan ukoll ir-rieda li fi spirtu demokristjan aġġornat għaż-żminijiet tal-llum tkun ippreprat titqabad għal dak li temmen fih. Fuq kollox trid tkun temmen li qabel ma tivvota biex tibni partit rebbieħ, tivvota biex tibni partit ġust li jemmen fil-ġustizzja. Trid temmen verament li jitkompla x-xogħol siewi ta’ dawn l-aħħar tletin sena u tasal biex tagħżel dak li l-iktar jiggaranixxi t-taqbida fit-triq għas-sewwa.

Is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur.

 

 


No Way to the New Way

Adrian Delia’s adopted slogan for his leadership bid is “Mod Ġdid” (New Way). In his latest outing before the press the candidate for leadership now claims to be persecuted by the PN establishment. It is clear now that his intention is to drive a wedge between himself, his support (supposedly the most of anti-establishment of anti-establishment) and the rest of the party with all its mechanisms, institutions and “baggage”. From last night the 4-way race has become, to some extent a battle between Delia and the rest – the PN in the public eye is reaching its turning point and it is one that has written “do or die” all over.

There is an irony though in the way this whole business has unfolded. A party that was beaten down to a pulp – shocked by the last election results – was being asked for the second time in five years to regroup, reform and react. The system in Malta requires “a leader” – the leader – around which to rebuild. It is as though a leader is required before anything can properly function in our political parties. It could be that we are driven by biblical inspiration and that a party’s chosen are helpless without a guiding light to follow – a messiah even. The many corollaries of this thinking include the blind faith, the unquestioning loyalty, the imagery of the flock and the sacrifices and hurts that are part and parcel of every devotee on whichever side of the great divide.

There begins the irony. Many have been hoping for a New Way for a very long time. Many, including myself, had hoped that the supposed rage that had been built against the inexcusable degradation of the rule of law in the last years would transform itself into sufficient inspiration to bring about the much desired change. Many saw this opportunity to begin such a change when the coalition against corruption took shape. Many believed. This would be a new way of politics – transparency, representation, meritocracy and the rule of law brought back to their rightful places in a republic that deserves much much more than the direction it has taken in the last few years. Many, including myself, were prepared to set aside their profound distrust of the old parties and to engage in the hope of kicking off this change – and we joined the coalition and its aim to rid Malta of corruption. Turiamoci il naso e votiamo la coalizione… in the hope of better things to come.

What we had not reckoned with was the New Way. It’s not really that New: it has been with us for a while in the guise of what this website called Inħobbkom Joseph in his first few years of office. Remember? The day Joseph Muscat was elected leader of the Labour Party (then still MLP) his first word to the Labour delegates was “Inħobbkom” (I love you). The New Way had begun. Love was in the air and the promise of change began with promises of listening to the hurts, of sweeping away the old and bringing in the new. We can see where this brought us. Fast forward to 2017 and looking back we know for a fact that Muscat’s New Way was simply the opportunity for a group within a party to make use of the social and political mechanisms until it reaches its aim of installing itself at the helm of the country. In true Tommasi di Lampedusa style – everything changed but everything remained the same. Circles within circles, friends within friends and the real change disappeared as quickly as a plot of virgin land in an ODZ.

The ugly part of the New Way is that it is difficult to reckon with. It has no scruples, no vision other than Mammon and the abuse of the faults and glitches of a constitutional system that cries for a proper reform. It is tough to reckon with a faceless, valueless body politic and even harder to break it down when the institutional guarantees are all undermined gradually. The New Way works best because it makes use of the partisan party systems that have been fine tuned as ladders to power without much thinking about their original reason for existence. The PN and PL stopped being thinking parties in a political sense decades ago. The PN’s last clear political position was EU entry. The PL’s was probably opposition to the EU – anything since is just a result of pragmatic opportunism and populism on the labour side and the PN flailing about helplessly with a multiple personality disorder.

Without a set of basic values there is no litmus test. There is no independent testing ground, no grundnorm against which to gauge new entries. Add onto this the fact that the last two elections that brought Labour to power and kept it there were also the period of the rise of social media and public scrutiny and reaction. Facebook’s rapid expansion into the political domain has meant that the 2008 election was the last election where information and its manipulation was in the hand of a closed elite. Already in that year the alarm bells began ringing in party HQs when websites such as this one showed the potential of online presence and discourse. In 2013 and 2017 the social media ruled supreme – and it was not only about propaganda. The combination of decades of partisan grooming, faulty party structuring and social media exposure brought us a new majority that crossed party lines. The faithful, the acolytes would process information in a mind-boggling way – and the smarter of the party machineries would make great political mileage out of this.

There is no logic in the New Way. There is no rule of law either. The New Way depends on courts of the general public – a general public that is poisoned with egolitics or the one measure with which everybody seems capable of seeing everything: their egoistic self. The New Way feeds on ignorance, misinformation and the materialistic yearning for more for oneself. The New Way is here and now and Delia and his supporters know that the New Way does not fight its battles institutionally. An admonition and invitation to stand aside by an ethics committee will count for nought in Delia’s mind. Already the spin is out – it’s the establishment fabricating evidence against me.

Such sweet sweet words to Joseph Muscat’s ears. In his own words it is like watching a film of something that he has lived through. Yes, Muscat, the real pioneer of the New Way used his power of incumbency to strike another blow in the face of the advocates for real change. He has already survived the public courts and public judgement by sowing doubt in the right place and by persevering in a propaganda campaign of deceit. He still has a personal secretary and Minister in his cabinet who should be anywhere but in politics. His New Way keeps them there smiling and speaking of love and positive vibes while the sheep and faithful bleat happily ignoring the long-term consequences of this folly.

The New Way is a strong and formidable adversary. Its bed was prepared long ago and it is the result of the race to the bottom begun almost two decades ago. The PN’s tesserati and delegates have a formidable choice before them. It is made even more daunting because they carry the psychological scars of the last electoral campaign where the New Way delivered that sound beating against all logical odds. It might be tough for them to believe that reneging the New Way is a good idea what with all the promises of short term gain that the New Way gives and given the precedent of the formidable prophet of the New Way in government.

There is no time to waste though. At this moment in time rejecting the New Way and opting for the real movement of change is not only a precondition to victory (on a party level) but the last hope that the reform this republic needs begins in earnest. In many ways the voters for this leadership race have one more chance to prove that the New Way has not won. It’s time to finish what had already been started.

It’s simple. Say no way to the new way.


Celebrating Misrepresentation

A party and a protest. Manifestations of victory and mourning collide in Valletta when one extreme of society calls upon its supporters to celebrate their enemies’ crushing defeat while the conservatives shed tears among hyperboles and exaggerations.

It is fantastic for all the same-sex couples who can finally accede to the institution of marriage. It is sad that this moment had to be sabotaged by extremists claiming to represent the LGBTQi community but who are more intent on exacting their revenge on the conservative elements of society by going overboard and pushing an inconsistent and unrepresentative law.

Same-sex couples deserved access to the institution.

The world is not divided between those who are in favour of same-sex marriages and those who are against.

There are also those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, are pointing out the inadequacies of the legislation as proposed.

There are those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, do not see any reason why the current regime should be watered down instead of added to.

There are those who, while being in favour of the introduction of same-sex marriages, are not represented either by the bible-toting conservatives or by the rabid reactionaries who misrepresent the LGBTQi communities’ real interests.

The noisy battle between extremist factions has clouded out logic and reason. When this happens, the mechanisms of representation are sabotaged and society is no better off. The squabble between “confessionals” and “pseudo-liberals” has deprived the nation of real representation. Empowering minorities does not mean replacing one hegemony with another, it means regulating while bearing in mind all interests and opting for balanced solutions. By turning what could have been a proper debate to introduce a just and equitable law into a battle of extremes the participants have sabotaged parliamentary representation – aided and abetted by short-sighted politicians wanting to jump on this or that bandwagon.

We may applaud the belated introduction of gay marriage but sadly this day will go down as a sad day for parliamentary representation. We are stuck in the middle between the jokers and the clowns. Society as a whole does not deserve this type of representatives.

 

The other extremists
Exclusive Invite – Victory celebration.

The Marriage Equality Bill and the label on the box

The Act to amend the Marriage Act (etc) is storming through parliament as it inevitably would given the repeat of the concomitant factors that allowed for a spate of progressive cum liberal laws in 2013. We have a Labour government elected with a huge margin and therefore with a comfortable majority in Parliament that is about to kick off a new season of legislative wonder. True to form the first bill on the table is an inexpensive one – no capital expenditure is involved – yet it is a huge investment in “street cred” capital when it comes to waving the progressive flag.

It’s the timing, stupid

Speculation at a purely pragmatic political level would have it that Muscat’s timing for this bill is justified by two main reasons. The first is precisely the idea that his government is seen to be the champion of liberal rights – the great reformer that has shot Malta to the top of the tables for civil liberties. In this case the “seen to be” is crucial. There is no capital cost and more importantly no political cost because the “Taghna Lkoll” wave is in full tsunami flow and even the most bigoted conservative within Muscat’s movement will right now sing his praises for whatever liberal achievement he is told has been achieved. Yes, this is definitely l-Aqwa Zmien and Muscat will be cashing his civil liberties cheque as often as he can – he has already done so before the Pana committee (what a wonderful distraction) at the EP.

Which brings me to the second reason for the timing. Debates on civil liberties in Malta tend to be rather controversial. Like most debates in Malta the tendency is to argue broadly without much attention to either fact or detail. The added value for Muscat’s government is that civil liberties debates tend to be a particularly sensitive issue for the party in opposition. Rushing the “debate” on civil liberties at a stage when the opposition is still in disarray gives an added value to the image of “Civil Liberties Champion” that Muscat tries to portray. It helps if the argument is reduced to black and white “for and against progress” levels without any nuance whatsoever. This is the time to expose the so-called “dinosaurs”and to purportedly portray the opposition in an ultra-conservative light. Antics and misinterpretations by the dinosaurs of the like of David Agius and Edwin Vassallo will be made to stick out like the ugly conservative warts that they are. The dinosaurs will provide the perfect platform on which to build the straw man wherein to bundle together all the critics of the bill whatever their reasons may be.

The Facts of the Matter

Which brings me to the content of the legislation itself. There are a few incontrovertible facts that need to be considered.

Fact One: All parties in parliament had committed to introducing equal marriage rights in their respective manifestos (the PD is committed to the manifesto of the PN).  A manifesto by a party is a manifesto for government. It is not a manifesto for opposition. What we deduce as a commitment to vote in parliament is tied to whether a party is in government (and therefore able to produce the law as envisaged in the manifesto) or whether it is in opposition (and therefore within the limits afforded by its minority in parliament how far it can influence a bill in order to reflect its manifesto). The Bill before the 17th legislature (before the parliament elected in June) is a bill drafted and proposed by the party in government and therefore embodies its conception of what equal marriage is. I will leave it to the PN to solve its own internal disagreements however I disagree with Simon Busuttil on one point. The PN (and PD) are not bound to blindly accept any law purporting to legislate on equal marriage proposed before parliament for the simple reason that the content might not reflect their concept and drafting of a potential equal marriage. That is how and why an opposition exists in Parliament. It is part of the checks and balances for the rule of law to properly function.

Fact Two: The title of the Bill in question is “An Act to amend the Marriage Act and various other laws in connection with the introduction of marriage equality and to provide for other matters dealing with it or ancillary thereto“. Let us be clear. The purpose of the act is clearly the introduction of marriage equality. Translated into layman’s terms it is an act that is intended to ensure that the institute of marriage that has hitherto been an institute exclusive to heterosexual couples is made accessible to same-sex couples. That is clearly what the label says on the box. That is what this act should be doing. Nothing more nothing less. In other jurisdictions, such as that of England and Wales (we cannot say UK since Scot and Northern Irish law are regulated separately on this issue), the solution was simple. Very simple. Under the “Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, article 1(1) stated concisely and without any complications: “Marriage of same sex couples is lawful”.

Fact Three: Here’s a little known fact. When you read through the current provisions of the Marriage Act and the Civil Code combined you will notice a very interesting anomaly. Nowhere in the law is marriage between same-sex couples prohibited. Madness, I hear you say, why all the fuss? Well it’s not that straightforward. True, nowhere in the restrictions to marriage section is there an outright prohibition of persons of the same sex getting married. The restrictions include age, infirmity and degrees of affinity (articles 3,4 and 5 respectively) but do not, surprisingly include any specific prohibition of same-sex marriage. What has stopped a gay or lesbian couple from turning up at the registry and asking to get married then? The answer is twofold – the first is custom (consuetudine) because until now it has been presumed that society regulates marriage as a union between persons of opposite sex. The second is the more formal problem of nomenclature because even though most of the provisions already refer to spouses or “persons to be married” without being gender specific you do encounter articles such as 15(2) of Cap 255 that refer to the Registrar (or officiating officer) declaring the married persons to be “man and wife”. That, and the myriad of forms that need to be adapted to be able to accommodate same-sex couples registering their marriage, are the main obstacles to same-sex marriage to date.

Rushed Cats and Blind Offspring

So now to the Bill. We all agree that the intention is to introduce the possibility of same-sex marriage. It’s even better with all parties involved on board. All parties agree that same-sex marriage should be a possibility under Maltese law. How do we go about introducing that? The solution in other jurisdictions, as I already referred earlier, was a glaringly obvious and simple solution deserving of Occam’s Razor application of the year. In layman’s terms what is done is simply (yes simply) to add to what already exists. The England and Wales option was to declare clearly that “Marriage of same-sex couples is lawful”. Angela Merkel’s “Schabowski moment” led to a change in German law which will now state the following: „Die Ehe wird von zwei Personen verschiedenen oder gleichen Geschlechts auf Lebenszeit geschlossen.“ ( “Marriage is concluded by two persons of different or same sex for life.”). Again, simplicity is in order – to an already extant regime of marriage (between persons of different sex) is added a parallel (and equal) regime (between persons of the same sex).

That is in essence what the introduction of Same-Sex Marriage entails. Nothing less. Nothing more.Sure certain provisions of the law would require an add-on for interpretative purposes in addition to the existing provisions in order to allow their interpretation in the case of same-sex couples. It is not necessary to change these clauses into a more neutral term. What would be done is to add an interpretative section or clause (whatever the case may be) that applies in the case of the newly added parallel regime of same-sex couples. Likewise, where for some natural reason, certain marriage-related clauses cannot apply in the case of same-sex couples (as has been ably argued by my colleague Dr. Justin Borg Barthet) this would be clearly stated in the law: for example the problematics surrounding the grounds of impotence or consummation in the area of nullity of marriage could be solved by either exempting same-sex couples from their application or by qualifying their application in such circumstances.

Any law purporting to do that should (and probably would) have the support of the whole of parliament. Doesn’t Bill no.1 of the 17th Legislature do that then? Well it says that it does in its title but it goes on to do far more than that. This is where the problems start.

Same, same but different

Bill no. 1 has one major problem that pervades the whole exercise. It is in fact an exercise in declaring everybody SIMILAR and in denying the existence of DIFFERENCES by paring down as many of our major codes as possible to the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. The confusion in the drafters’ head lies primarily in their conception, or rather misconception, of equality. Equal rights you see, does not mean that everybody is the same but rather means that everybody – no matter how different – is to be treated equally before the law. This is the age-old struggle of feminism – a justified struggle that recognises that even though men and women are different (and accepting that difference) it does not mean that they should not have equal rights. This normative distinction is hard to explain in normal circumstances. What it means is that for example when it comes to salary the law ensures equality by saying that both men and women should be paid equally. Given the same job, under the same conditions, it is illegal for a man to be paid more than a woman. In order to guarantee this equality the law RECOGNIZES THE DIFFERENCE. You have a MAN, you have a WOMAN and you have a law stating that the WOMAN can not be paid less than the MAN because she is not a MAN.

Helena Dalli’s Bill tries to do something different. To continue using the example given, in order to get equal pay it tries to redefine men and women. No more men, no more women. Just persons. The wonderful thing is that if it were really a case for legislation for equal pay then this solution wouldwork perfectly. All persons deserve equal pay. Simple. This is not equal pay though. This is the institution of marriage. Remember and bear this in mind. The declared intention is to introduce same-sex marriage with all the consequences NOT to alter the current institution. The nationalist party “conservatives” got the wrong end of the stick in their criticism of the bill – they fell into the ploy of the progressives who would label them conservative dinosaurs.

The real problem of the bill is that it is a rash job that ignores all rules of legal interpretation. It opts for the more convoluted option of combing through major laws and in each instance reducing to the lowest common denominator any definition. The agenda is clear – ride the momentum and push through changes of nomenclature for the sake of winning while the stakes are high. It is not, as explained earlier, a necessary exercise. A parallel, well thought out regime for same-sex marriages would have given same-sex couples an equal foothold in the institution without whittling away from an institution that has withstood the test of time.

The honourable fight for equality has been hijacked by an extremist faction intent on pushing the limits. For a long time, the governments of this island have lent more than an ear to the bishops and archbishops when regulating civil liberties. The tide has turned and it is now the turn of the Rainbow Church to have the ear of the government. The path that has been taken is a dangerous one. The misconception (and I am not sure it is an error, more a wilful construction) of the workings of Equality lead to definitions that open the floodgates for legal lacunae.

The bill will inevitably pass through parliament as it is. Muscat wants a show of force and mistakenly interprets this as an easy victory of liberal forces while shaming the PN further for having allowed its conservatives to bleat once again. In actual fact though there is little justice and equity in a bill that is bulldozering through parliament beyond debate using the brute force and euphoria of an electoral victory. The MGRM and other lobbies purring away while dismissing any constructive criticism with their straw man argument are unable to conceive the damage to their own cause that is being wrought by this kind of legislation. Level-headed members of the public, many of whom have absolutely no bone to pick with the introduction of Same-Sex Marriages will now be more wary of any proposals from the quarter of these latter-day extremists.

Right now it is tough to speak out and try to criticise objectively because the inquisition is out en masse. Ironically for a lobby that so despises labels and labelling they seem to be quick to throw a label or two in the direction of whoever dare criticises their bulldozing project. The rule of law is in no better place when dialogue and consultation are replaced by imposition. This law will pass through parliament but it is no victory for democracy or for representation. Sadly, expect more of the same for now.