Understanding Eddie

Former President and Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami has chipped in to the post-referendum debate with an article on the Sunday Times (MP’s credibility on moral issues being put to the test). The article is bound to attract its own corner of controversy – particularly because on the face of it, it is firmly grounded on theological interpretations and principles that have come to be closely associated with pronouncements made by the retired politician.

Part I – Understanding Eddie

It would be unfair not to try to understand the constitutional underpinnings of Eddie’s (forgive the familiarity but it was Eddie for too long to be easy to drop) reasonings simply because the moral values that Eddie subscribes to are so deeply intertwined with those of a particular church. As a small aside in these days when nostalgia for “Salvaturi ta’ Malta” seems to be a new trend it would be good to remember that the moral foundation of the wave of Solidarity, Work, Justice and Liberty was inextricably linked to the christian-democrat interpretation of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine.

Back to Eddie and MP’s credibility though. The former PM is no longer in the driving seat and he can afford to assess the situation from a more principled approach without the quasi-macchiavellian calculations that tarnished his later years in power. To put it bluntly the saving or crumbling of a government is no longer a part of Eddie’s calculations so he can afford to be morally honest with regard to his guiding principles.

The former PM first distinguishes between the moral issue behind the Independence and EU referenda and the moral issue that underlies a referendum on an issue such as divorce. Those among the media (and politicians) inclined to sensationalise will point to Eddie’s reference to Pope John Paul II’s list: divorce, free love (whatever that means), abortion, contraception, the fight against life in its initial and final phases, the manipulation of ‘life’. They will rush to compare it to KMB’s meanderings pre-EU accession about AIDS and Sicilian workers etc. At J’accuse we don’t think that Eddie is in the business of cheap scaremongering this time round. His question goes deep to the constitutional mechanism this country will choose in the future for determining issues that fall heavily on the “moral” side as against the “pragmatically political”.

Part II – Parliament’s Dilemma

This is where we begin to understand Eddie. Better still. Once the noise of controversy and rash anti-clericalism subsides we can even agree with him. Not with his position on divorce legislation but on his outlook towards constitutional frameworks that we form to enact such legislation. You see, the huge problem that this parliament has is that it is unable to come to terms with the fact that no matter how many times it twists and turns this Rubik Cube of Divorce the final decision will ultimately lie in its hands.

Our parliament is  designed around – and bends to – the will of a duopolistic anachronism. Once the divorce issue hit the fan it exposed the fundamental weakness of both parties: contemporaneously. No matter how much a “wobbly coalition of economic, social, religious and cultural forces” you can cobble together, no matter how far you can go with the oxymoronic faux progressives it is blatabtly impossible to retain a semblance of coherence when faced with a clearcut decision on a “moral issue”. The only party that would have been comfortable at the outset is still lying outside the closed club of our parliament.

J’accuse wrote at the outset: this is an issue for parliament to decide, not for the people to be lumped with. For parliament to decide this issue it needs to have at least one party that is committed (as a party, as a leader as MPs) to introduce divorce. This commitment must be clear at election time and the electors will have implicitly accepted divorce legislation as part of the party’s manifesto. Neither the conservative nationalists nor the pussyfooting progressives could get themselves to do that. We do get the sophistry of flags of convenience (cue PN with its token gay, liberal and ultra-cool section) or of the logistical sumersaults (cue PL with its private member bills, free votes) but no party wants to assume the responsibility of being the pro-divorce party on election day.

Part III – Why Eddie may be right (and wrong)

Here’s what our former PM did in 2003 – when Labour’s Sant insisted that the referendum result is neither here nor there:

The last two referendums held in Malta dealt with two major political developments. The people were asked to approve the proposed Constitution for Independence and Malta’s accession to the European Union. In both referendums there was a clear majority for the two proposals. Yet the Labour Party MPs continued to oppose both proposals notwithstanding the positive referendum results on those two eminently political issues.

It is worth recalling that as Prime Minister in 2003, faced with that stand by the Labour Party, I opted to advise the President to dissolve Parliament forthwith and call a fresh election in which accession to the European Union was the main issue. I have always maintained that moral issues should not be decided on the principle of democratic majorities but, rather, on the principle of what is morally right.

On the one hand Eddie distinguishes between political and moral decisions. For political issues it is simple. If one party insists on not recognising the will of the people then the solution is to dissolve parliament and call an election. The people can then either choose between two parties and their options (yes, sadly the dualism will prevail).

Eddie does however create a vacuum – legally that is. Here is his reasoning on taking decisions on what he terms “moral issues”:

I have always maintained that moral issues should not be decided on the principle of democratic majorities but, rather, on the principle of what is morally right. As a Christian I believe, on the authority of none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that divorce is morally wrong and therefore wrong for society. Should one change this view because a democratic majority decides otherwise? Definitely not.

Which leaves us with a political and constitutional vacuum. Who will decide on divorce legislation for the people? The conscience of 69 parliamentarians? Elected on what basis? Eddie is being economic with the truth here because the convenient classification of a vote on civil divorce legislation as a “moral issue” effectively creates a vacuum of representation. It sabotages the very heart of representative democracy which is based on the principle that someone somewhere takes decisions “for the people”. You know the mantra: “a government for the people by the people”.

How do we therefore solve the impasse? The answer is written on the walls. Our political parties should be obliged to shed their convenient status of “wobbly coalitions”. On issues such as divorce there should be a clear position: not a free vote. I expect a party presenting candidates as future representatives in parliament to be clear about what they believe on such issues. By voting for a party I would then also be exercising my choice of or against a particular issue – and expecting it to shoulder the responsibilities in parliament.

Part IV – A parliament of representatives (with a clean conscience)

A parliament that would have been made up of representatives elected on a clean bill of ideas – and not on a mix and match of ideals in order to throw the widest net – would not have wasted the infamous €4 milllion euros finding out what was already a known fact before the debate. Such a parliament would have had a clear mandate to legislate beyond the individual member’s conscience.

Our current parliament will in all probability patch together a law of sorts that is passed with (what now seem to be) 37 ayes but it remains a parliament that is unable to come to terms with the requirements of a huge chunk of its demos. The battle for the emancipation of the Maltese citizen is far from being won.

Former Prime Minister and President Eddie Fenech Adami is right in one thing. The best solution in this kind of situation is probably the dissolution of parliament. This would allow the formation of a new parliament based on new parties hopefully committed to particular principles and policies. Hopefully too, parties will be clear with potential candidates about what the party represents and will ask them to leave their individual conscience at the front door, in the confessional or in any case outside parliament.

The greatest hope I reserve for the eventual voter : that he or she may learn a lesson from this hobbled parliament and choose to discern between false menus and the real deal the next time he or she has to make a choice.

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After the dust settles -Muscat's Cheek

The moment you think that our collective gaggle of representatives had scraped the bottom of the barrel out comes the latest bravado. This time it is the Master himself : Inhobbkom Joseph. I cannot decide what to believe: Is it Joseph who thinks that every other voter is damn stupid or are voters really that stupid and swallow this shit? Excuse my French. What faeces? I hear you ask. Well let me quote the Master as quoted on MaltaToday (quoting from TX)….

Joseph Muscat said on TX yesterday that Gonzi has no choice but to vote yes and represent the will of the majority. “MPs must vote yes, or else abstain if they have a problem of conscience… the prime minister has cornered his party by taking an official stand against divorce.”

Muscat also said the PN should change its official position on divorce after the people voted in favour of the divorce bill. “Gonzi’s position against divorce today is just like Labour’s position against EU accession or to withdraw Malta’s membership. That is the PN must revisit its position against divorce because it goes against the people’s will.”

Muscat said that Labour MPs were free to be activists against the introduction of divorce and were free to abstain on the vote of the divorce bill. The Labour leader also said his party had left the door open for MPs like Labour MP Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who said she would be abstaining on the divorce bill vote.

OK. Here’s a reminder. In point form. So we can think calmly.

1. Joseph Muscat INSISTS that the PN must revisit its position against divorce because it goes against people’s will. So this man is stupid (sorry) enough to believe that a NON-POSITION on divorce is not against the people’s will? How does Labour’s NON-POSITION on divorce reflect the will of the majority? Explain.

2. “MP’s must vote yes or else abstain” says Joseph. Funny that Joseph now has the right to prescribe votes for other MPs when he cannot even old his own house in order. And again, how does Gonzi “have no choice but to vote yes” but other MPs must “vote yes or abstain”.

The shit has hit the fan as J’accuse predicted. The logical leaps and attempts to justify abstentions and the temptation to get a minority No vote are incredible. From all sides. Our politicians have abdicated their duty to legislate in favour of a minority right from day one. They passed on that responsibility to a reluctant voter who is now baffled that once he gave them a new remit there is so much pussyfooting and shuffling of feet.

Here’s how it stands:
1. Neither PL nor PN can afford a situation where the law does not pass. The law will pass.

2. Joseph’s PL is trying to get political mileage by focusing on the PN’s original position against divorce while trying to make us all forget that the “free vote” was Joseph’s idea originally – and that it is just as much an abdication from political party representation as a NO vote.

3. Gonzi’s PN is in a quandary. On the one hand Joseph’s antics have thrown the party a lifeboat – the grapevine is already building the either/or option and lesser evil spin – ready for the next election.

Both party’s are suffering the consequences of the Spineless Coalitions they formed in the desperate attempt to garner the relative majority that gives them the coveted crown. The King got his crown but none of them can wield it in the interests of its people.

J’accuse and many others are being vindicated for their ideas back in 2008 when we were “objects of hate” and purveyors of “wasted votes”…. simply because we did not buy the lesser evil option. We urged people to vote for parties with clear policies on specific issues and not the populist giants.

It’s not always fun being right.

In un paese pieno di coglioni, ci mancano le palle. – J’accuse 2011

*Caveat: This post is based on MaltaToday getting the report correct. We are prepared to retract our opinion that Joseph Muscat is definitely an opportunist politician should he or the Labour party come out with a correction of any of the abovequoted statements.

It starts today

These are truly revolutionary times: here I am, guest posting in J’accuse of all places, while the owner of the blog is away.

Parliament meets this evening. On its agenda the first reading of ”Motion No. 206 – Private Members Bill – Civil Code (Amendt) Bill” which translated into the amendments proposed by Jeffrey Pullicino-Orlando and Evarist Bartolo.

For the uninitiated, a bill in Parliament goes through four stages before going to the President to be signed into law. These are the first reading, second reading, the committee stage and the third reading, with the discussion going into greater detail with each subsequent stage.

Voting can take place at every stage and in the committee stage each and every article, clause and proposal for amendment gets voted with a final generic vote in reading number three. However, voting takes place only after a division is called with the MPs voting with “ayes” or “nays”. The Speaker reports on how he thought the vote went but he can be “challenged” and MPs’ names are called, one by one, alphabetically, and their vote recorded in the debates of the House.

Drab, you might think. But this time with some MPs following the voice of the people and others following the voice of their conscience, all this becomes more important.

Tonight it’s the first reading. This is little more than voting on the name of the bill, granting leave to the publication of the first text of the bill in the Government Gazette. Usually, there’s no division and the motion is carried without as much as a nod.

Will a division be called even at this very early stage? Be here tonight at 6 p.m. for some live blogging!

A hymn – No to the Free Vote

As parliament gathers for the first reading tonight we have already heard the news about the first abstentions: Marie Louuise Coleiro and Charlò Bonnici have confirmed their intention to abstain. J’accuse has chosen a hymn for the Civil Rights Movement that is (hopefully) forming. It had to be Dylan of course.

Moviment Le ghal Free Vote

AD event on 7th June

Dylan performing When the Ship comes in with Joan Baez at the March on Washington

Capossela’s Italian interpretation:

LYRICS:

When The Ship Comes In
by Bob Dylan

Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be a’breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
Before the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in

And the sea will split
And the ship will hit
And the shoreline sands will be a’shakin’
And the tide will sound
And the waves will pound
And the morning will be breakin’

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls will be a’smilin’
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And be buried at the bottom of the ocean

A song will lift,
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts out to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in

And the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a’touchin’
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’

Oh the foe will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
And they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And they’ll know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

And they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ “We’ll meet all your demands”
And we’ll shout from the bow “Your days are numbered”
And like the pharoah’s triumph
They’ll be drownded in the tide
Like Goliath they’ll be conquered

As the dust settles – Citizen Jack

The noise had almost begun to subside and the metaphorical dust seemed to settle around the result of “53% IVA 47% LE” it became increasingly unclear whether another showdown was underway. The definitive conclusion that could be drawn from the last 72 hours is that this is definitely a crisis moment for Maltese society. Echoes of this conclusion can be heard all over the place and there is definitely no going back.

Interestingly enough in our multifaceted society of victors and defeated (because there always has to be a winner in our mind) the assumptions being made through the grapevine all the way to the reported ideas in the press do not seem to take in the wider picture. The citizen, the netizen, the reporter, the church, the politician, the party, the government – might all be engaged in a short-term assessment and quick recalibration of immediate requirements.

Let’s see how the actors played it out starting with this post about Citizen Jack.

CITIZEN JACK
Shaken. Very stirred. The divorce debate catapulted Jack out of his default position of “politics ain’t for me”, “it’s all the same anyway”, “they’re all a bunch of time-wasting egotists”. Was Jack aware that the question was more about emancipation and less about divorce? Maybe. For one thing he got to ditch his long-outdated political compass and was obliged to think for himself. No default/lesser-evil position would allow him to make ethical compromises.

Lacking the classical reference points Jack went solo. Where possible he found the comfort of numbers – from facebook movements to processions – yet this did not dispense him from having to think and think hard. It was hard to get a crash course in constitutional law and social mores what with all the noise: the perennial dilemma of the uninformed (a euphemism for uneducated? – but then how many are there?). The planes of discussion were at times too many for Jack to follow: Was this a battle between the devil and the Lord for his soul? Or was it a battle between the controllers and the controlled over a more liberal society?

As in Aesop’s fable the battle between the sun and the wind to strip one man of his vote escalated with worrying consequences on the man’s constitution. As the dust of the first battle settles you can sense an eagerness to end all this. Shouldn’t it be over by now? Hasn’t the YES won? Isn’t the parliamentary debate a formality? The people have spoken (the bastards) haven’t day? It’s time to get back to the cocooned life of casual complaint and leave it all to those who know best no? Jack might begrudge the very existence of your average MP but he sure is grateful not to have to carry his responsibilities.

The question we should be asking at the moment is whether the multiplicity of virtual and real movements have brought the message home to Jack that there is an underlying, deeper battle than the one that has just closed. Censorship, minority rights, social freedoms, respect for the environment, the battle against the networks of corruption, the stranglehold on representation …. and much much more. Is that too much for Jack to handle? Will he be wishing that the monster vanishes or that it will be swept under the carpet for hopefully another 50 years?

Can Jack be stirred further? Is Jack aware that cashing the change cheque will imply much more than simply ticking the yellow box in one referendum?

Se vogliamo che tutto cambi bisogna che tutto rimanga lo stesso.

Eppur' si muove…

These were the famously defiant words attributed by popular legend to Galileo. He was addressing the Pope shortly after being obliged to sign a recant of his theory that the earth spun around the sun. They are apt words today as the first news came out from the counting hall in MCC and as it gets closer to an official YES.

J’accuse’s preferred outcome for a referendum that should never have been seems to be winning with a 54%-46% result. For Malta’s voting pattern this is not far from being a resounding victory in a consultative referendum. The ball now passes to the politicians’ court.

We have to see now whether the PLPN dinosaurs will now shift given that they have a “popular” position that they can easily translate to a “populist” policy.

Austin Gatt and his like will have to think hard before moving on down the path of “conscientious” voting within the PN fold. Civic conscience would lead them to voting YES in favour of the bill. They have a condition they could exploit (the responsible divorce allows for some refining of the bill to ensure it is so) but they cannot escape the writing on the wall.

Joseph’s Labour might finally grow some balls. It is more likely to perform some logical somersault and suddenly switch to being pro-divorce as a party.It will be hard for Inhobbkoms party to do otherwise. If the parliamentary vote fails also thanks to conscience votes on Joseph’s side then the PL must bear the consequences.

The PM’s speech (now on NET) to the people seems to lean towards “respecting the will of the people”. In his statement he does mention that the parliament is obliged “biex ifassal ligi tal-maggoranza” – tfassal: to draft and to propose – is not the same as “jghaddi” or to actually pass the law.

PM Gonzi still mentions the respect of deputies who still believe that their conscience does not allow them to vote in favour of divorce. The hand washing is still there.

Will there be enough YES votes to carry the law in parliament? More importantly from a purely political point of view what will this vote tell us about the political parties and what baggage will they carry to the elections.

Austin Sammut’s first-hand analysis on NET tv just about sums it all up: “Il-free vote ghadu hemm”. They shot themselves in the foot long ago…. will they be mature enough to reflect on their civic duty or will the mysterious personal conscience trump their representative duty.

54%… Change begins at the MCC today.