The Coalition Conundrum

History was made. Marlene Farrugia, elected on a PN ticket for reasons we shall delve into later, will, once this session of Parliament commences, become the first member of a third party to sit in a parliamentary session from the start. The constitutional repercussions of this matter are still unfolding and require careful analysis. I hasten to add at the start that the analysis goes above the person and candidate but looks rather at the wider picture – the possible implications of what just happened and the conclusions that can be drawn.

Let us take a quick look at what happened.

Getting into Parliament

On the 28th of April this year, the PD and PN announced what both sides referred to as a ‘coalition agreement’. The coalition between the two parties would be known as Forza Nazzjonali, however for electoral purposes the PD agreed to contest the election under the PN banner and list. PD candidates would be identified as tal-orangjo on the ballot sheet. Crucially on a political level it was immediately clear that the PD was retaining a form of autonomy within the ‘coalition’ – the orange party kept the right to choose which candidates to field on which district, it made it clear from the start that it would be working with the PN (with not within) to present one electoral programme. The parties also declared that each candidate would remain under the responsibility of the respective party.

Was this clear at the time? I reacted with the post Coalitions in the time of cholera. I was clear from the start – this was not really a coalition, at least not in the pure sense of the word. As I already stated in that post, the main purpose of this ‘coalition’ was to get the necessary numbers to vote corruption out of government. The legal constraints posed by article 52 of the constitution only allowed for a workaround that would give a sporting chance to a group of parties to be elected with a pre-electoral arrangement in place. To be clear, had the parties chosen to run on their separate lists they very well risked not triggering article 52(1)(ii) thus leaving them without the proportional compensation. That was not their main concern though – their main concern was pooling all their votes to count for the much needed majority they were hoping to achieve.

Given the circumstances the workaround was a brilliant move. PN and PD would run under one party list. For the election any votes each party would get would contribute to that list. Could it have been done better? Maybe. With hindsight a third ‘mega-party’ could have been registered with candidates from the two parties pooled within this mega-party. Still one list, still two parties in one. This was a snap-election though and practicality trumped aesthetics. This is also the official reason given why AD dropped out of the anti-corruption coalition.

There are a few matters to bear in mind at this juncture:

(1) The how and why of the ‘coalition’ was openly declared before the election – this was no secret negotiation. This is important because when it comes to political loyalty and responsibility what the parties did next once the election was over should have come as no surprise to anyone. It should not have surprised the hardcore PN member who cried ‘foul’ when they interpreted the PD success as a PN loss. Not only should it not have come as a surprise but they should have been content with the result since the Forza Nazzjonali theme was what everybody had rallied behind before the election. It should not have surprised the Labour party either. They had capitalised on the idea of ‘A Coalition of Confusion’ and suddenly were u-turning their spin and claiming that the PD was never elected to parliament. That spin is understandable, it is not in Labour’s interests to see a ‘coalition’ work as much as it is to the distaste of PN hardliners.

(2) The autonomy of the PD within the PN list was clear. Persons who were voting for Marlene Farrugia and her team were voting to get a PD candidate in parliament while ensuring that their number one choice is not wasted. One did not preclude the other. In fact, it worked. Here is how J’accuse was suggesting to vote before the election (The change we need and how to vote it in):

On June 3rd my number 1 vote will go for the PD candidate in my district. I chose the PD candidate because they are our Trojan horse to bringing about this change. By accepting the difficult conditions of a coalition with terms dictated by the current electoral laws they were prepared to sacrifice the party for the good of the country.  I will continue on the nationalist and alternattiva candidates. 

PD was prepared to drop the logo and drop their individual list. It was a small price to pay to contribute to a possible victory against corruption. In the end corruption still won but it does not change the rules of the game.

In Parliament

So once the result was known and once it was clear that Marlene Farrugia had been elected from the 10th district, the Labour Party decided to play the usual games which have long been in the PLPN style.  We had a protest before the Electoral Commission and then before the Constitutional Court. For all intents and purposes this was a stillborn case. Any interpretation of the rules drafted to safeguard the interests of the two big parties could not have been otherwise. The infamous provisos to article 52(1) are supposedly written into the Constitution to ensure some form of governability. Labour was hoping to trigger 52(1)(ii) by claiming that more than two parties had been elected to parliament.

You see the trouble with the article 52 provisos is that they ‘reason’ in terms of political parties. Before the PL and PN played around with the constitution to suit their needs and continue to undermine our representative democracy, political parties had no mention in the constitution. It did not need to mention them. Just take a look at article 80 that deals with the appointment of the Prime Minister. You would be forgiven if you assumed that our Constitution says that the leader of the party with more votes becomes Prime Minister (or something of that sort). Instead the Constitution states that “the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of the members of that House”. See that? Majority of the members of that House. They could be 67 individual independent MPs and a potential PM would have to meet each and every one of them after an election and convince a majority of them to support him to form a government.

PLPN did away with these complications. With the proviso articles they also made damn sure it would be darn difficult for any third party to convince people to ‘waste’ their vote and get them into parliament. Which is why when the PD and PN sat at that table discussing the coalition there was only one way to go: form one party list under one banner and logo.

But. And here is the groundbreaking moment the Labour lawyers missed (or didn’t but what the heck), the rules on getting into parliament stop just there… getting into parliament. Once you are in parliament you are no longer obliged to stick to your party. One reason that happens is precisely because our constitution views parliament as a house of elected representatives not as a house of party representatives. We have all seen members of parliament switch allegiance or leave their party half way through a session of parliament. Marlene Farrugia and Giovanna Debono sat as independents in the last parliament. AD briefly had two MPs when they switched from being Labour MPs. The nationalist party once formed a government when one member of another party switched allegiance on the first day of parliament.

So. To end this post (others will follow), the rules applying to how many parties are elected to parliament stop applying once the election is over. That is what just happened. As per agreement for the Forza Nazzjonali declared back on the 28th April, Marlene Farrugia is free to be a PD MP as from day one of the Parliament. Elected on a PN ticket as a workaround for electoral purposes she is now able to sit in parliament in representation of her party. She can still fall under the opposition whip though this would be the first time I believe that this happens with a second party in opposition.

There was no betrayal, no secret deal that was suddenly uncovered. The PN and PD may have lost the election but they still managed to break important constitutional ground. If anything this success exposes the inconsistencies of a system that for too long has nurtured the race to mediocrity between two outdated behemoths. What we do with this newly gained knowledge remains to be seen.

The change we need and how to vote it in

 

I am not a nationalist

I am not a nationalist. The very idea of being a partisan card-carrying member of a party nauseates me and I feel insulted whenever I am told by anyone that I am a “nationalist”. This blog, created in 2005 has always been a strong promoter of constitutional change. Whenever I have written, whether on J’accuse or The Sunday Times or the Malta Independent on Sunday, I have taken this philosophy with me: it has come dangerously close to a creed. The analysis is simple really – our constitutional structure has been hijacked by a two-party system, it no longer serves the people who should be the ultimate depositories of sovereign power but it serves as a structure that enables to well-oiled grease machines that serve a “career” system entrenched in a not too fine system of networks. My belief: that system needs to change.

To change that system, to really change that system, we need a blanket reform – as we say in Maltese “bl-gheruq u x-xniexel”. That change means bringing down the whole palace including the two behemoths that have striven to set it all up. Yes, a real commitment for change by any of the two main parties would be a sort of hara-kiri in many ways. A party proposing this kind of real change would consciously be subscribing to its demise while preparing to start over in the new system with new rules. That is why it is difficult to trust any one of the two parties promising change – and this in a the sanitised world of the hypothetical, not counting the contexts and realities within which we vote every time we are called to the polls.

The biggest challenge the sovereign people have had every election, particularly since deciding on European Union membership has been whether to adhere to the Gattopardian motto (If we want everything to change then everything must remain the same) as represented by the status quo or whether to push the main parties off the edge and provoke a constitutional shift for the future. The people have not been sufficiently convinced to let go of old habits. The card carrying partisans have always won the day. The race to the bottom was allowed to happen. That is where we stand today.

Corruption, Maladministration, Bad governance

I am not independent. I don’t think anyone can really be independent – whatever that word means in political discourse of today. The notion of “independent” in local discourse falls part of the cobweb infested partisan way of thinking that for a few years managed to create the myth of “super partes” – persons who were supposedly allowed to play and comment in the political arena without having their motives questioned. The whole point of accusing people of claiming to be independent today rises out of some confused attempt at trying to identify which of the two parties they are trying to back. The level of political discourse is such that people are unable to participate in discussions based on clear cut values. Add to that the zero-sum nature of our voting system and you can barely blame anyone for sticking their flag to a mast rather than arguing the nuances of policies with which they may agree or disagree.

This election has very high stakes though. Coming as it does in the age of post-truth, it is becoming much more difficult to decipher on the ground yet when one takes a step back and looks at the wider picture one finds a perfect opportunity to trigger off the much needed change that I spoke about earlier. The system is shaking at its foundations. If you want to follow a partisan narrative you will end up comparing and justifying different levels of corruption. You will still end up discussing the social and economic future of our nation in very shaky terms unless of course you are on the side of the believers of Newspeak. Marie Briguglio’s brilliant analysis of the steroid-driven economy really drove the message home insofar as this particular point is concerned. No party is really thinking about the long term sustainable future of the country – just look at transport and think of the difference between promising what people want and what the country needs. The parties’ electoral manifesto is in both cases a dangerous mix of promising the earth to everyone and everything.

Which is why this election you have to ignore their manifestos. Yes. You read that right. Ignore the manifestos. The manifestos are just the Wizard’s Big Curtain behind which, for the most part, lie small parties with small ideas. At least most of their ideas for the nation are small – meanwhile the candidates will be vying for the greasy pole: a place in parliament, a parliamentary secretariat, a chairmanship, a ministry…  If any of these manifestos were to be implemented within the current institutional framework then we will have failed. I say we as a country because whenever we allow whatever party it is to operate within a system that guarantees absolute power to the party in government with a hold on all other institutions then we fail. The signs are more evident now because of Muscat’s team’s gargantuan effort at exposing them to everyone.

Up your manifestos

Yes. Ignore those manifestos with tunnels to Gozo, slashed taxes, trains, racecourses, freebies, jeebies and heebies. The manifestos are a useless waste of paper this time round. The ONLY promise that counts is the one regarding change. Which brings me back to the original point. I make it not as a nationalist, an independent or as one who voted AD for the last few elections. I make it as a person who believes that we might already be too late to bring about this change but that it is still worth one massive try. I also make it as an expat of thirteen years, with a comfortable salary and great job who needs ask nothing of my country (and who never needed ask anything of any party) if that counts for anything in your appreciation. I make it with a genuine interest in getting a better future for the country I was born in, the one I love to love and hate.

Change. It is all written into the much maligned coalition/non-coalition agreement/non-agreement between PN and PD. It is the one promise to which I am attaching my hopes in this election. It is the one promise which I will hold each and every member of a new government answerable for. Radical constitutional reform. It is hard to trust the nationalist party on this one. I know that because I have been there before. Once in power the temptation to retain the status quo will be strong as usual. As I said, commitment to real change means radical change both for party and for the country’s institutions. Which is why there will always be opposition from those used to the past ways of operation. Which is also why the struggle will not end on June 3rd.

THE JUNE THIRD REVOLUTION

On June 3rd the struggle begins. First, with a vote for the coalition promising change we will set the wheels in motion. Then it is the duty of each and every person who has stood up to be counted to bring about this change  to pressure the new government to start that wave of change. It has to start yesterday. No dragging of feet, no excuses. The political parties have been allowed to play Politics for too long with the wrong results. It is time for politics to return at the service of the people.

On June 3rd my number 1 vote will go for the PD candidate in my district. I chose the PD candidate because they are our Trojan horse to bringing about this change. By accepting the difficult conditions of a coalition with terms dictated by the current electoral laws they were prepared to sacrifice the party for the good of the country.  I will continue on the nationalist and alternattiva candidates. I have never in my life been convinced by the Labour party to give even a fraction  of my vote to them. I will surely not start this time round having seen the Labour party machine put in motion to defend the indefensible.

CLOSING

One final note. It has been 12 years of blogging but there are still people out there who think I write anonymously. So here goes. My name is Jacques Rene’ Zammit, I am a Gozitan lawyer specialised in European Union law and I work as a referendaire (which means I assist a judge to draft judgements) at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. I have been involved in politics for over 25 years, my first political “intervention” was a speech in the run up to the 1992 election. It was at a PN event at the Crystal Palace in Marsalforn and i spoke about the need of organisations in Gozo getting together to pull the same rope. At University I was a member of SDM during the time when a group of idealists in the organisation tried to cut off all ties from the Nationalist Party. That particular experiment was a partial failure – partisan ties are hard to break.

Among my credible adversaries at the time were Mike Briguglio and James Debono. I am glad to see that our generation produced free thinkers who believe in the country and believe in the future. I am honoured to be on the same wavelength as these two gentlemen and comforted by the idea that there are more of us out there – ready to stand up and be counted and constantly working for change.

This has been J’accuse telling you how I will vote on Saturday. I cannot sufficiently stress the importance that voters look at the country’s future before and above anything else. The future is not the cash in your wallet or the bills in your postbox, the future is the quality of your life, the social and the cultural, the possibility of living in a normal country where everyone is equal under the law, where we are all servants of the law so that we may be free. Good luck, we need it.

 

 

Pirates of the Mediterranean.

 

The #Maltafiles scandal has just broken. The journalistic network EIC (European Investigative Collaborations) combed through 150,000 documents leaked from Malta and concluded that Malta is a ‘pirate base’ for tax avoidance. Coming right after Panama Leaks had projected Malta into the wrong side of the limelight thanks to its having the only EU Minister with companies in Panama (and not doing anything about it), this new scandal threatens to deal a heavy blow to a crucial sector of the Maltese economy. As things stand we are definitely not in the best position to set up any form of defence.

Reputation is the key concept here. Blow after blow is being dealt to Malta’s reputation as an honest dealer on the international and European level. One lesson that many nations learnt from Panama Leaks was that in order to be able to survive in the cut-troath world of tax competitiveness it is crucial to know how to be on the right side of the fine line between tax avoidance and the abetting of illegality.

The International Dimension

Take New Zealand for example, the discovery of the use of their system of trusts by Maltese government figures led to the changing of laws in the country relating to trusts. Notwithstanding the immediate and timely reaction to shore up the damage, the ripples of the scandal are still having an effect on the NZ trust system to this day: the inquiry into the dealings by the Azerbaijan President’s daughter involve movement of moneys through New Zealand trusts.

In Panama, the founders of Mossack Fonseca – the law firm in the eye of the storm – were arrested and accused of having formed a criminal organisation that assisted persons in hiding funds of doubtful origin (read money laundering). They have only just been released on bail. Laws get changed, law firm partners get tried criminally and action is taken. All to protect a country’s reputation. That is because in the world of tax and investment competition reputation is crucial.

What happened in Malta? For over a year now the Prime Minister has stood by two of his closest operators: Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi notwithstanding the fact that they were two PEPs caught up in the Panama Papers scandal. The feeble excuse? Some sort of declaration on a hastily written paper makes it all seem – to the Prime Minister – A.O.K. Worse still, insofar as Mizzi is concerned we have the fake defrocking from his position as Energy Minister as some form of retribution for his ‘genuine error’. The hypocrisy behind this move was never more blatant than during Malta’s turn at the presidency of the EU with Mizzi turning up and chairing meetings of the EU Council of Energy Ministers.

No effort at all was made to preserve Malta’s reputation in this respect on the international scene. Joseph Muscat was quite prepared to defy everyone and everything and proceed with his headfast ways keeping both Schembri and Mizzi close to his chest while ignoring international calls that cried foul. At no instant did his particular magic formula for Malta’s economy – Muscatonomics – contemplate the huge damage being wrought by his actions and those of his entourage. The recent developments with regards to the operations of Pilatus Bank are only an aggravation of this situation. It can only get worse.

The European Dimension

The Best in Europe is what Joseph Muscat had promised. Has he delivered? There are different ways of looking at this. First there is the government spin that our economy has never been better. We have low unemployment and budget surplus flowing through our ears and noses. The ‘trickle down’ benefits for the citizen remain the famous ‘consumption bill cuts’ that earned Muscat his first ride in power. A different song is that sung by others who – as best put metaphorically by a colleague of mine – describe the situation as follows: The previous nationalist government had replaced an old car with a spanking new one and the labour government found it all set to go. What labour is doing is revving up the engine and wearing it down as fast as possible like there is no tomorrow.

Beyond the inevitable spin though there is a reputation to be upheld in the European Union too. Being the best in Europe also entails being the best in Europe by European standards and those standards are to be found in the rules of the club. It’s not about a blind adherence to the rules either, it is about understanding that the European Union is a sum of its parts and that every part of the Union can only benefit when they work together and for the same interest.

This idea is best enshrined in article 4(3) of the Treaty of the European Union:

“Pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.

The Member States shall take any appropriate measure, general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising out of the Treaties or resulting from the acts of the institutions of the Union.

The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives”.

The principle of sincere cooperation underlies the operation of the EU as a group of states with common goals and common regulations. When boiled down to the essence it translates into “member states (and institutions) should not engage in activity that undermines the goals and effectiveness of the Union and its objectives”.

Which brings me to passports and the sale thereof. It may be ok for the government of Malta to lend lip service to the European Union as a project and as a concept. The damascene conversion of Malta’s PM from hater of all things EU to sudden prophet on the future of Europe might have become a taboo topic and yet it remains to be tested given how every action on the European stage by this government is tied to inherent contradictions and the sale of passports is the prime example.

When Malta’s Labour government decided to turn the sale of Maltese citizenship into a lucrative business it also did so with the full knowledge that the main attraction of such citizenship was that it included EU citizenship in a sort of 2 for 1 deal. The bulk of local criticism of the scheme was related to the type of purchasers who would be attracted but few chose to stress the European dimension of the problem. The low and inconsistent standards applied to the scheme and the readiness to accept anybody willing to pay were not only harming Malta but they were harming the European Union.

Did our PM care? Irrespectively of whether he was aware of the alleged massive operation of greasing of wheels when it came to the implementing of the scheme, Muscat showed an incredible nonchalance in dismissing this huge “up yours” to the European Union as one big bout of jealousy. What does that make Malta seem like in the eyes of its partners in Europe? What does it do to the reputation of the nation? Yes you guessed. We are the pirates of the Mediterranean, ready to sell our soul for a quick kill – and that kind of reputation sticks.

So when the focus suddenly shifts to a Financial Services industry and to how Malta has used a (cheap) competitive edge to attract investments here the onus of proof that Malta acts with malicious intent of the “I’m alright and f you jack” kind is much lower. Couple that with the fact that our regulatory system in this sphere has not exactly been improving over the years but rather has degenerated and you suddenly discover that one of the crucial sectors in our economy is under open fire from all sides.

This is not Luxembourg right after Luxleaks. This is not Ireland after getting rapped on the hand by the Commission for the way it deals with huge multinationals. This is passport selling Malta with a Panama Leaks associated heart of government that is now exposed with a set of files showing that its financial services system is being abused by persons of not too high a standard.

That is the difference really. On any other day, under any other government, an attack on the competitive edge of a particular sector can be weathered given the right diplomacy and the right legal action in the right quarters. Take our gaming industry – constantly subjected to a barrage of attacks by fellow EU members who want a piece of the cake. So long as we can show that our regulatory standards are high and that we operate within the limits of sincere cooperation then it as all part of a days work as members of the EU. There are forums were this battle can be taken.

This is not any other day or any other government. This is a scandal ridden government that has now got a long list of grievances which all boil down to the breakdown of governance. The strongest defence for maintaining a competitive regime is that it is done and maintained within a strong regulatory framework that allows for no nonsense. When France, Germany, Italy and more come knocking at your door asking questions as to how your financial services industry is full of huge holes allowing for money laundering operations the best platform for defence is not the deck of a pirate ship that is sinking fast.

The truth when they lie

The fog of war is thick. The battle lines of this campaign were drawn around the question of truth. There is no doubt that whatever Joseph Muscat had in mind when calling this election it was not really the supposed prosperous golden age that the country is passing through but rather the long list of failures in the field of governance (check out this site) that were not going away anywhere soon. The dangers of institutional breakdown remains the main motivator for this campaign: on the one hand you have a collective force, a coalition of sorts, whose campaign is built around getting a corrupt clique out of power as soon as possible, on the other hand it has become evident that the sole aim of the campaign (of the election itself) is to build a huge smokescreen around the issue of governance.

So the government of redacted contracts, hidden deals, selling of public land, and of structures to hide income in shady jurisdictions came up with an idyllic utopia storyline: The Best Time (L-aqwa zmien). Muscat is supposed to be some kind of mixture between Midas and Pericles and all the commoners of this world will enjoy the trickle down effect of the fabled Muscatonomics. The propaganda machine is well oiled and we now have learnt that the PL knew it would call an early election much before the most recent Panama Paper allegations. The groundwork of newspeak had been prepared with the main two “facts” to be thrown as a foundation for L-Aqwa Zmien being (1) record unemployment, (2) budget surplus. A slick machine that is well honed to reap the short-term benefits of the austerity policy while hiding real figures and projections under a huge carpet the size of GWU headquarters served the purpose. The implication: Par idejn Sodi? Look no further than Muscat.

This is one giant Potemkin village fashioned out of bubbles and risky deals in order to impress. Above all it is fashioned in order to distract. This blog had sussed out Muscat’s modus operandi from the beginning. He is a master in prestidigitation – using one hand to wrought a brilliant illusion while the other is busy at work behind everyone’s back. This election campaign is all about that. The whole front is a distraction from the truth. The truth is what he wants you to look away from. The truth is what his campaign will attack with vigour in order to attempt to prevent it coming out. Potemkine villages existed for Soviet Russia. They could work because in Soviet Russia the means of communication were under strict control.

This is not Soviet Malta. Yet. The danger signs are clear though. Only this morning we read that Jacob Borg of the Times has been summoned to court over a report regarding Pilatus Bank. Matthew Caruana Galizia of ICIJ fame was blocked from Facebook after being reported to the Zuckerberg company for having published documents related to the Panama Papers saga. The government that championed whistleblowers came down on the latest whistleblower that hit the headlines like a ton of bricks. I could go on but you get the idea.

The battle over the truth is getting vicious. It will bring out the worst of the worst and the irony of it all is that once this election is over we will only just have begun. The necessary reforms that must be put in place will require hard work and coordination as well as commitment. We are really risking the fine line between a modern liberal democracy and a third world country best described by the great Hitchens (in Love Poverty and War).

“Sooner or later, all talk among foreigners in Pyongyang turns to one imponderable subject. Do the locals really believe what they are told, and do they truly revere Fat Man and Little Boy? I have been a visiting writer in several authoritarian and totalitarian states, and usually the question answers itself. Someone in a café makes an offhand remark. A piece of ironic graffiti is scrawled in the men’s room. Some group at the university issues some improvised leaflet. The glacier begins to melt; a joke makes the rounds and the apparently immovable regime suddenly looks vulnerable and absurd. But it’s almost impossible to convey the extent to which North Korea just isn’t like that. South Koreans who met with long-lost family members after the June rapprochement were thunderstruck at the way their shabby and thin northern relatives extolled Fat Man and Little Boy. Of course, they had been handpicked, but they stuck to their line.

There’s a possible reason for the existence of this level of denial, which is backed up by an indescribable degree of surveillance and indoctrination. A North Korean citizen who decided that it was all a lie and a waste would have to face the fact that his life had been a lie and a waste also. The scenes of hysterical grief when Fat Man died were not all feigned; there might be a collective nervous breakdown if it was suddenly announced that the Great Leader had been a verbose and arrogant fraud. Picture, if you will, the abrupt deprogramming of more than 20 million Moonies or Jonestowners, who are suddenly informed that it was all a cruel joke and there’s no longer anybody to tell them what to do. There wouldn’t be enough Kool-Aid to go round. I often wondered how my guides kept straight faces.

The streetlights are turned out all over Pyongyang—which is the most favored city in the country—every night. And the most prominent building on the skyline, in a town committed to hysterical architectural excess, is the Ryugyong Hotel. It’s 105 floors high, and from a distance looks like a grotesquely enlarged version of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco (or like a vast and cumbersome missile on a launchpad). The crane at its summit hasn’t moved in years; it’s a grandiose and incomplete ruin in the making. ‘Under construction,’ say the guides without a trace of irony. I suppose they just keep two sets of mental books and live with the contradiction for now.”

And now the PN

In the middle of all this there is a campaign that is still unfolding. I would add a little note on the PN and its reactions to some of the campaign issues. The imperative nature of voting this government out has overshadowed any criticism that might be directed to the outfit in opposition. Still, a few words of advice are not out of place and I will dare put a few here for the perusal of whoever might be interested in taking note:

1. On the issue of the www.simonbusuttil.com spoof site. Huge overreaction from the PN. There is nothing wrong with a spoof. Even during election time. The whole point of a spoof is to mock, satirise someone or something. If anything the reaction should be on a political level – more of a criticism – that the Labour Party has officially had to rely on spoof for its campaign rather than leave it to the satirists. Unfortunately satirists have had the wind taken from their sails since the achievements of this government (and I’m talking low levels) are beyond their ken. This government – from Panama to Velbert to Australia Hall satirises itself. Bottom line. The PN should get a grip and not make a big deal about this website. PL on the other hand is resorting to hopeless and desperate tactics in one big campaign whose only reason is to distort or hide the truth. The best repky by the PN would have been “sure it’s amusing, your little satire. We did not even need to create a spoof site… just go over to www.gov.mt … nothing shouts spoof more than our current cabinet and government”. Nuff said.

2. On the Broadcasting Authority. This is one of the authorities in our nation that has been completely neutralised by constant PLPN manipulation over the decades since 1964. Much fuss has been made over the decision to get David Thake and Norman Vella off air since they are candidates in an election and they should not have excessive airtime. Let’s face it the decision is ridiculous. Especially in this day and age when any candidate could simply open an online radio/podcast and transmit it. Why not prevent candidates from having blogs then? In any case though the PN here are only “victims” of their own underhand games that they were more than willing to play over the years. Besides, I am not sure whether silencing Thake and Vella is really a bad thing – in their case the Japanese proverb that the silent man is the best man to listen to really applies. Anyway, how many pensioners criticising the PN billboards could Thake really muster before going mad. Speaking of the Broadcasting Authority I have not seen any Forza Nazzjonali exponent lamenting the decision to leave out Alternattiva Demokratika from the debates, then again, hell has not frozen over yet.

 

After the Coalition: Vote Forza Nazzjonali

A week. It’s a damn long time in politics. I watched with a heavy heart as coalition talks between Alternattiva Demokratika and the Nationalist Party disintegrated. I had already set out my ideas on what should ideally have happened. The moment in time that we are living requires extraordinary moves by extraordinary people. The nation is desperately in need of a political wave of change that transcends any individual party’s interest.

So yes. When the news came out that AD and PN had not found a common ground I was angry. I’ve seen the chronological account given by Alternattiva’s members. I’ve also tried to understand the main reasons given by nationalist party. The impression I get is that on both sides there are quite large factions who are unable to step up to the occasion and understand the immediacy and urgency of the problems that this nation are facing.

AD

Let’s look at AD first. Here they were with a huge chance of getting one of the two behemoths of Maltese politics to commit to a common programme. They knew that, like them, the PN was first and foremost interested in getting the corrupt clan out of Castille. They knew that they had a common ground on this matter of cleaning up politics. This was their trojan horse – their chance to work on a wider agenda of reform. Did they sit at the negotiating table with an open mind or with more red lines than was feasible to come to a compromise?

With hindsight and having seen the “Qawsalla” proposal I detect a bit more intransigence than was necessary at that stage. Too much mistrust was built over the years and maybe, just maybe, AD was seeing the PN in what appeared to be a weak position and therefore they tried to go for the overkill. To the third party observing the battle it seemed like payback time. The PN name had to go. It did help that there was a logic in the reasoning and that the idea was doable on paper but putting this as a deal breaker was tantamount to putting a petard under the proceedings from the start. That might be what some AD die-hards full of rancour at the PN might want but this is neither here nor there – it does not help in the battle against the incumbent and it does not contribute to any possible discussions on change in the future.

PN

Now for the Nationalist Party. There has been much talk about whether the PN was caught unawares by the early election call. Most of the talk is rubbish because it dismisses the recent developments from within the party when it comes to proposals on transport, on the environment, on small business and the economy and on other things. The veneer of electoral preparation was almost there. The PN had been gearing for election anyway – the shock announcement might have just sped up some of its machinery into action.

I do however believe that the PN was unprepared for the election in another way. The PN is unprepared because it had not had enough time to metamorphose into a real party of values. You only have to listen to the discourse in the rallies, in the meetings in the kazini. It’s all about “il-Partit nazzjonalista this and that”. Only an hour ago I was listening to Claudio Grech speaking from Santa Venera and the discourse is all the chiaro-scuro, us and them, “remember what the nationalists havemdone for us”.

All this betrays a lack of understanding of the real predicament of the nation. It betrays a lack of assumption of responsibilities that should be combined with a willingness to change.

When the coaltion with the PD was announced Simon Busuttil was flanked by six or seven persons whom he described as representing the highest echelons of his party. The parties in lilliput need a leader, two vice leaders, one chairman of executive this, one chairman of administrative that and one probably to make the coffee. The party. The risk is always there that people are not understanding the message of this election – the crucial nature of the change that is needed – because they cling to old ideas of alternation. It is the kind that is ingrained with “good vs bad”, “us vs them”.

It’s dangerous. Very dangerous. It is so especially because this time round we cannot do without voting for the nationalist party to get corruption out of our system. The onus therefore lies on the nationalist party to be convinced about the changes that need to be brought in from day one. The coalition with Marlene Farrugia’s PD gives us a ray of hope that someone in the new formation will be hoding them accountable. Pity AD are not there too.

Which brings me to the matter of how the nationalist party dealt with the coalition talks with AD. You could sense the supercilious arrogance oozing through the statements of some exponents of the party. Comments on size and votes in the past betrayed the fact that lessons still had to be learnt about the how and why our politics works. As I argued in an earlier post not much was being asked of the PN to show a commitment to a wider coalition that transcends the single party. This test was failed and failed miserably judging by the reactions to AD by the same exponents mentioned earlier.

What now?

We are here though. At a crossroads. The battle has only just begun and the day of reckoning has been fixed. We see a nationalist party trying to battle the monster of deceipt that holds the nation in ransom. It’s going to get tougher as the earth is promised by the incumbent in order to save his skin. Forza Nazzjonali has become the last chance to get the change going against all odds.

Its members must begin to realise that they do not only represent their respective parties but also the hopes of a much wider swathe of population that goes beyond the flag waving hardcore. That swathe of population has had enough of the old republic. They expect real change and reform. We all do.

If we care for our country, if we care for real change and reform we can only but put our weight behind Forza Nazzjonali. We do so with the solemn promise that should we be successful in or endeavour to get this movement into government then that will only be the beginning. For every day on from the 4th of June we will hold the new government to its word: constitutional and electoral reform. We will not be silenced by mere talk of discussions that threaten to drag on for five years.

No dilly dallying, no excuses. No returning to the needs of the party. In order to change the whole system even the parties themselves must change. It is a tall order. It is probably also our last chance before the nation descends into the level of a tin pot dictatorship.

Hopefully, for the last time, many will have the courage and goodwill to hold their nose and vote nationalist.

“Turiamoci il naso e votiamo PN” (con tant scuse a Salvemini e Montanelli).

Coalitions in the time of cholera

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?