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?


Akkuzaforizmi – Sejf

SkonD one news ma hemm l-ebda “sejf” fil-kcina ta’ Pilatus. Is-sejf il-muzew tal-arkaeologija qieghed le? Imbaghad meta ssemmi sejf u Pilatu mohhok itir ghal Cesri u l-Ides of March. X’tahwid simboliku. X’konfuzjoni kataklizmiku. X’mizerja ta’ poplu imdorri jahdem bil-fidi u mhux bil-logika. #ghidofmarch


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?


More than words – Ken Clarke on Brexit

Occasionally a landmark speech turns up in the House of Commons. Ken Clarke’s speech during the Brexit debate on the 31st of January is one of those. A lesson in democracy, representation and history it is a breath of fresh air in a world of fake news and alternative facts. Sadly it seems like politicians like Clarke are a dying breed.