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.
- Malta votes `Yes’ to divorce in referendum (thegreatone22.wordpress.com)