Coalitions and how to build them in times of trouble 

Let’s begin by stating the obvious. What the PN (Nationalist Party) and the PD (Democratic Party) have going on between them is not a coalition. It cannot be. The reason it cannot be a coalition in the real sense of the term is the same reason why AD (Democratic Alternative) are finding it hard to get on the same page in what is after all a grouping that is intent on cleaning up the nation’s politics. How have we got to this point of a coalition that is not a coalition? Why are we even discussing these options? What is keeping AD back and what else could be done? This post tries to answer a few of these questions while at the same time we are fully conscious of the poisonous environment that is out there. In order to examine the coalition situation we will use two premises that we take as read.

Premise Number 1: We are living in times of a constitutional crisis. We believe that there is a complete institutional breakdown that has led to a crisis of representation and governance. The main political parties have proven that they serve not the nation but themselves. Individuals within these parties have used them as vehicles to control power and in the meantime they have abused of the large leeway afforded by the law to these parties in order to weaken the inbuilt mechanisms of the system that are supposed to function as a watchdog and monitor. The crisis of representation and governance leads inevitably to corruption and later on there will be a complete systemic breakdown.

Premise Number 2: The PLPN party system is at the core of the systemic breakdown. Over five decades the two main parties consolidated legislation in such a way so as to ensure that they hold the reins of power. It is nigh impossible for their stranglehold on the system to be broken – because they wrote the rules that way. In the last decade this has become more and more apparent until the implosion of one of the two parties has exposed their dependence on a system of bartering and trading in power to the detriment of representation and governance. The rule of law was only secondary to partitocracy. A corollary to all this is that the party system was only a breeding ground of a generation of politicians who kick-started and ran the race to mediocrity. Political parties no longer generated politicians at the service of the nation but career-driven narcissists only interested in the alternation of power, the parliamentary seat and perks. To get there they had to feed a support system of sycophants and creditors who always were ready to cash their cheque in favours and favouritisms when necessary.

Which brings us to the coalitions and now. The Labour Party is in government. It has presided over the rapid descent into a constitutional and institutional crisis. It – or parts thereof – has been the main protagonist in the weakening of the institutions and it has been the subject of scandal after scandal of misgovernance and corruption. The Nationalist party still smarting from a record loss last time round has had to try to regroup quickly. The precipitation of recent events has only meant that it has to act even faster in order to propose itself as the “clean” alternative to Labour. The last years have seen the birth of the Democratic Party as a fourth force apart from Alternattiva Demokratika. The coalition idea begins because the PN wants to create a mass of opposition that will wipe out what many see as a corrupt government that has lost the moral right to govern. With an election looming we once again have to face one of the crucial article of our constitution. The PLPN article par excellence:

52. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Chapter, the House of Representatives shall consist of such number of members, being an odd number and divisible by the number of electoral divisions, as Parliament shall from time to time by law determine. Such members shall be elected in the manner provided by or under any law for the time being in force in Malta in equal proportions from
the electoral divisions referred to in article 56 of this Constitution, each division returning such number of members, being not less than five and not more than seven as Parliament shall from time to time by law determine; and such members shall be known as “Members of Parliament”:

Provided that where –

(i) at any general election, a political party obtains in the aggregate more than fifty per centum of all the valid votes cast at that election, as credited to its candidates by the Electoral Commission at the first count of all the votes, but the number of its candidates elected at such election is less than the total of all the other candidates so elected;

or
(ii) at a general election which is contested by more than two political parties and in which only candidates of two of such parties are elected, a political party obtains a percentage of all the valid votes cast at such election, as credited to its candidates by the Electoral Commission at the first count of all the votes, which is greater than that obtained by any one other party, but the number of its candidates elected at such election is less than the number of the other candidates so elected,

the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be increased by as many members as may be necessary in order that the party obtaining more than fifty per centum, or the larger percentage, of all the valid votes, as the case may be, shall have one member more than the total of the other candidates elected at that election; and, in any such case, such persons shall be declared by the Electoral Commission to be elected to fill the additional seats created by this proviso who, being candidates of the party last mentioned at such elections, were credited by the Electoral Commission at the last count, with the highest or next higher number of votes without being elected, irrespective of the division in which such highest or higher number of votes occurs.

At the heart of this article lies the reason for the much discusses “Wasted Vote”. It is the reason why on the eve of an election you are told that no matter how much you might not be satisfied with the works of the PN for example, voting for a third party that is not the PN is tantamount to wasting your vote. The race is essentially a two horse race that in many ways fails to respect the choice of the voter and his right to have a party of his own choosing to represent him in parliament.

When it came to creating an anti-corrupt government movement this had to be borne in mind. It explains why the candidates of the PN and PD will be in one list under one name. In that manner the first-count votes of the united parties will go towards the same party and will count for Article 52 purposes of forming a majority in parliament. Had the lists remained separate on the ballot paper this could not happen. A common list is normally a clear sign of a coalition but for one specific point. The PD has accepted to appear on a list that is marked with the PN logo and the PN name. In their negotiations the PD were content enough for that to happen so long as they got the guarantees that they wished for from the PN should they get elected to government.

AD have hit this brick wall. As willing as they may be to join forces with that is being described (but not for ballot purposes) as the National Force (Forza Nazzjonali) they are reluctant to run under the PN name with the PN logo appearing near their names. One has to see first of all the history of AD’s entreaties with the PN. It is a history of backstabbing, most times by the PN who either at the last minute or a little after chose to ditch AD and any help it might have given. It is the old PN, the arrogant PN (some vestiges of which can still be heard today – like when journalist Ivan Camilleri asks ADs Cassola pointedly whether he is aware that AD are small) that we are hopefully talking about. It is the PN that would hang on to the system as it is because it is a system in which it is geared to survive and hopefully for them rule.

Today’s PN should be different. Today’s PN should be genuinely concerned about the state of the nation. Aside from bearing the responsibility of having contributed to this sorry state of affairs by having been a wilful partner for many years in the partitioning of power, the PN should be working actively to prove its contrition and willingness to change. Part of that willingness to change should be humility in its actions where it should be prepared to put the pressing need of the nation before those of its own survival.

Malta does not need the nationalist party. Especially not the nationalist party that tries to survive in the ways of the old republic. Malta needs a coalition for change, a coalition of the willing, a coalition of parts that make a strong whole. The nationalist party has a duty to make this happen and step again onto the right side of history as it had done years ago with the call of Work, Justice and Freedom. That party would seem ridiculous if it should stick to its guns and pride by hoisting its name and logo on groupings who still associate it with its past work of division and arrogance. If the nationalist party realises the priority that we have today then it should have no qualms in forming a real coalition under an umbrella name – Marlene Farrugia has already suggested Partit Nazzjonali – with a logo that reflects that this is a common enterprise.

A real coalition is needed. True it would be a “coalition” created as a workaround to the article 51 constrictions where three parties act as one for a short period of time leading to the important institutional reforms and mending that must take place urgently. That coalition is a coalition not only against the corruption that exists today but also against the old way of doing politics. The PN must realise this. It will only do so when it realises that it too has to change and stop clinging to past images of itself.

There is no shame in embracing this first step to change. It should be a step to greater change. One that involves the creation of a new republic with new values and new rules. A system of constitutional democracy based on the rule of law and proper representation with strong watchdogs and checks and balances.  Malta needs a smaller parliament, less electoral districts, proportional representation, a technical cabinet of ministers from outside parliament, a stronger and more independent judiciary, a revived police force, a stronger office of the attorney general. Democracy and its operation needs to fall back into the background while the nation goes about its life normally again.

Is it really so much to ask?


5 thoughts on “Coalitions in the time of cholera

  1. Bull’s eye – something not even AD has managed to articulate so clearly to explain its own principled stand.

    I hasten to add that the PN is in a quandary:

    – On one hand, Dr. Busuttil and his loyal lieutenants agreeing (out of necessity rather than conviction) to factually form a Forza Nazzjonali coalition with AD&PD contesting under a new coalition’s name – thus maximising Dr. Busuttil’s chances of becoming Malta’s prime minister, and,

    – on the other hand, opportunistic PN candidates and diehard party stalwarts who are already against PD’s assimilation and will probably drum up a mutiny should they sense that a Forza Nazzjonali list (rather than a PN list) will prevail – in essence they prefer to have Muscat/Pananagang for another 5 years, in exchange for the subsequent certainty that they will secure their absolute one party government, without having coalition partners hindering their time to pillage and suckle at the goodies that the PLPN duopoly represents.

  2. perfect if only we can act together as a force to rid ourselves from these thieves and bring about the change that is needed !

  3. Utterly disappointed, albeit not surprised with the PN.

    Nonetheless – provided that the PN(PD) pledge to take on board AD’s salient points about electoral reform, environment and good governance – AD should evaluate the feasibility of repeating its 2003 stance, that is, advising voters to give their 1st preference to PD candidates on the PN list, and their 2nd preference to AD.

    This may possibly neutralise article 52(1)ii if an AD candidate garners enough 2nd preference votes, from those seeking to oust Muscat and dent the PLPN duopoly.

    AD will remain consistent about their valid principled view on coalitions, whilst effectively contributing to mitigate Muscat’s re-election chances, by attracting voters incapable of voting anyone on a PN list.
    Such disposition will amply prove that AD factually prioritises Malta’s interests.

    Muscat would need to garner an absolute majority of 1st count votes or a majority of seats, to snatch another term.

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