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?

Why fund?

I have a genuine question to put to all political party activists in Malta. In the light of recent developments directly linked to political party funding I believe that there is a fundamental question that must be cleared even before we start to ask other ancillary questions such as how, when, who and what. It’s about funding really – we are currently, and have been for some time, engaged in extreme scrutiny of the movement of monies in power circles. From the unmeritocratic engagement of personnel by government (which is in itself a way of moving monies and funding) to the awarding of public contracts, public permits and the like (also movement of monies and value for consideration) to the direct “investment” of monies into political parties, the whole business of funding is intricately related to questions of power and influence.

Ideally and hypothetically speaking of course the role of political parties is to represent given sets of values that are then elected to power in the form of representatives who in turn will “govern” the nation (or scrutinise the government) in the name of the people and using the measure of such values. Arguably, the whole matter of funding should be intricately linked to the issue of keeping such entities as are political parties afloat for the very purpose of achieving their goals of representation. Arguably.

Broadly speaking funding should fall into two large categories. Firstly there is the ensuring of the day to day existence of the political party so that it can achieve its aims. Secondly, it is universally acknowledged and accepted that a Campaign Fund during election periods is needed in order for said parties to forward their cause and “sell” their ideas to the people. Beyond that though, there is no reason why parties should evolve into behemoths running costs in the millions and needing constant injection of funds. That our two major parties in Malta have evolved into such behemoths is proving to be a running disaster. The more the monster needs funds to feed its existence the more the fine line between interests, power and funding is broken. The defence that “donations are there to ensure representation” comes crumbling down when you see how the parties have also evolved to depend on periods in “power” in order to enable “investors” to cash in their cheque.
By investors I do not only mean the order of businessmen who seem to think that they can buy their way into power (mostly, incidentally, contractors) but also providers of services who will expect the party to repay them if not in cash then in kind. The classic example is how a large part of any party’s apparatus is shifted onto the public purse once that party gets elected into power. Whether it is as persons of trust or as employees of para-statal entities such as the public broadcasting this has been a natural consequence of the party power and money broking methodology.

The question I want to ask (I am not holding my breath of course) is the following:

Why do our parties need funding? What is the justification for funding on a daily basis (outside campaign mode of course)? What is the real cost for a party to do what a party is meant to do i.e. formulate policy and develop it?

Human Value

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The Authorities (capital A) have decided that the status known as Temporary Humanitarian Protection N(ew) – THPn in short – will no longer be renewed for what seems to be hundreds of migrants living in Malta. You may have seen stories in the press by now about Malta-born kids to Eritrean families who face imminent deportation thanks to such a decision. It does not matter whether these families are gainfully occupied, whether they are fully-paid up on their taxes and whether they have somehow integrated into our way of living – none of the above matters – they will not have their THPn renewed and this will mean their being sent back wherever they came from (if possible).

Prime Minister Muscat is quoted as having said that “We would have no credibility with the EU if, after we have been insisting so much on the country not being able to take in immigrants, we fail to repatriate immigrants who have been found to be here illegally.” It’s a matter of credibility then. There is already a bit of a fallacy there since the issue of legality had been dealt with pretty superbly under national sovereign law with the creation of this TPHn system – it is now, and only now, that the labour government has decided to change this state of affairs in line of the winds of change propelling the likes of Trump to the seat of power. Also, after all, the nation holding the rotating presidency of the EU must lead by example no?

There is a deeper issue at play here though. This is not your normal immigrant/refugee situation that falls under the black and white category of whether a nation is willing to take on the “burden” of life saving. The deeper issue is the value that we attach to humans – the human value – in our political field. If these were just souls wandering in on a dinghy and waiting the cynical sorting that goes on in such situations it would be a “simple” immigration issue. Instead we have discovered that these carriers of THPn permits might run into the hundreds (a very conservative estimate would be around 600). Most of them have settled in one way or another and are earning their bread in gainful employment

Suddenly the mass deportation of a substantial figure of Malta’s working population has direct consequences on the economic market. The more cynical among us might not have batted an eyelid when it came to deporting individuals straight off their dinghies of death. Instead we saw genuine concern by employers of these people who are set to live in a short limbo of uncertainty that will culminate in a loss of employees. This is not some trumped up figure of record unemployment thanks to an incucio between the GWU and government magicking thousands off the record books. These are real employments that risk being wiped off the fragile Maltese markets – and funnily enough it might finally give Maltese society as a whole a reason to care.

This news comes at a time when the Nationalist Party is trying hard to attract what we used to call SME’s to the fold with new taxation incentives – for those who behave a 10% tax. Numbers and money all seem nice as the PN and the PL vie for the title of champion of the  businessman. With the party in government selling off anything they can get their hands on, the PN opted to champion the middle ground in business terms and good for it.

What happens now though when the two parties notice that this move of cutting out completely the holders of the THPn will end up with a huge gap in the employment market that will not and cannot be easily replaced? Will we finally see some value in the humans that they are because they can be quantified as real contributors to the economy? Will we be cynical enough to take a step back (in the case of government) or champion their cause (in the case of the opposition)? Or are the winds of Le Pen, Trump and Geert Wilders too strong for comfort?

« Considerate se questo è un uomo
Che lavora nel fango
Che non conosce pace
Che lotta per mezzo pane
Che muore per un sì o per un no. »

– P.  Levi

That’s justice not funny

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On the day that Labour’s former deputy leader Toni Abela and former Gozo party president Grazio Mercieca joined the judiciary, Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri warned against bashing and ridiculing judges and magistrates.  There is no doubt that the judiciary is not a sector of society that should be basking in permanent ridicule or “bashing”, if anything the judiciary should be deserving of the utmost respect what with its being one of the main pillars of a modern liberal democracy. That the Chief Justice would parry any bashing and ridiculing in advance goes a long way to show the state of the judiciary today notwithstanding the much vaunted reforms that, according to the claims of many paladins of democracy, are supposed to have made judicial appointments a much more transparent and balanced exercise.

The problem though is that one cannot expect from a government that has not got the least respect for the concept of meritocracy to suddenly change its tune when it comes to a particular branch of appointments. Worse still these appointments might be asked to hold that very government accountable in the near future and we all know the allergy that this government has for accountability. Maybe, just maybe, the Chief Justice’s appeal not to further ridicule the judiciary was a subtle plea to the government itself to stop the tomfoolery of blatantly biased appointments.

Franco Debono may end up copy pasting endless links to his Quixotic exercise of “pushing in a reform against all odds” but the sad truth is that the patchwork set of changes have not in any way changed the way such appointments are made and the interests that are underwritten in this sense.

“Ridiculing” and “bashing” the courts is one way of putting it. Another would have been to ask the press to renege on its duty to highlight the anomalies and conflicts of interest that are being served here.  It would take a Donald Trump to ask a drama troupe to refrain from “offending” a vice-President with their opinion… I am quite sure that Chief Justice Camilleri would have none of that.

Donald Trump is set to revolutionize the balance in the US Supreme Court thanks to the next nominations. It is part of the way the US Constitution is set and a consequence of the liberal vs conservative divide. The “jerrymandering” of the judicial balance in Malta is not a constitutional requirement but rather the abuse of an anomaly that has not been corrected. In fact it goes against the very spirit of the constitution.

Unfunny business indeed.

Inspiration

Asked to comment on Trump’s recent victory, comedian John Stewart made a fair point when he stated that one point that struck him during the election was that no one had asked Trump what was needed to “Make America Great” again. We don’t have the “metrics” to measure how Trump will achieve this greatness because we were never told what was missing for the “Greatness” to be there. It’s not just a question of metrics it is also a matter of not knowing what to aspire for. Make America Great sounds like a great project and to participate in that project would be an inspiration for every citizen ideally. Is it though?

Back in Malta I noticed a post on facebook by a professional graphic designer named Corinne Cutajar. Here is what she had to say about the logo adopted by Malta for its period of EU Presidency:

Waking up to this… don’t know whether to feel amused or pissed off for having my logo (right) copied. Last year I got hardly any exposure for my work and yesterday this student’s copy was blown out of proportion! #goodriddance

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Yep. It’s quite a blatant rip-off. This from the government that is supposedly all about artists and their freedoms and development. Let us not forget the high rise tax that is supposed to be channeled to a fund for artists or something of the sort. Malta’s government and its Minister of Culture who is somehow obsessed with fantasy novels are desperate to Make Artists Great again. If you want to get a finger on the pulse of what people really are bred to think about artists and compensating their efforts then look no further than this article on Illum where a hairdresser complains about the annual fee that he has to pay to the Performing Rights Society in order to play music in his salon.

The Hamilton business was also an interesting turn in the first days post-Trump’s election. By now we have all heard of the drama troupe that decided to take advantage of the presence of Trump’s VP-elect in the auditorium to read out a sort of liberal declaration reminding Pence of the diversity of the electorate and of the hope that no body will be left behind when making America great again. I must admit that I do find it ironic that the message in the theatre piece is not enough and that a troupe has to hijack the audience after the curtain falls in order to add a bit of its own drama full of bourgeois menace. At the same time the reaction by Trump and his supporters is outright ludicrous – surely VP Pence is made of sturdier stuff than one that wilts when confronted with a different message than his own.

Only this morning we got reports that Trump has backed out of an interview with the New York Times because he does not like the way they report him. Very un-presidential. Our very own Trump-at-home and his minions are making it a habit of engineering press conferences and tailor-made Q&A’s in order to be in a position of answering only the questions he/they like/s. The difference is that the veil on Making Malta Great has long fallen. We are now in the phase where the masks are thrown and the only inspiration left is the jobs for the boys, the few lies that still fall on fertile ground and the ever-widening ‘establishment’ that is none other than the circles of beneficiaries of the decisions of a government that is the antithesis of greatness, of meritocracy and of decency.

Copy that.

 

 

Lest we forget.

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FIFA, the world football organisation, is set to fine the English and Scottish FA if they go ahead as planned and wear football gears emblazoned with the poppy in tomorrow’s World Cup Qualifier. The problem is not that England and Scotland will wear the poppy on their gear during the football match. The problem is that all the other countries won’t.

“Lest we forget” is not an exaltation of war heroes it is a timely annual remembrance of the follies that the whole world descends into on an all too regular basis. Rather than fining the English and Scottish FA’s for wanting to wear the symbol despite the sanctions, FIFA should be using its world stage to encourage ALL countries to wear signs of remembrance.

Because yes, we do forget. Too often. Too quickly.