The Times, Tuesday, 16th June 2009
Disband or be more radical - Briguglio
Executive discusses result tonight
Alternattiva Demokratika faced a stark choice: it will have to disband or else adopt a more radical political approach, according to former Sliema councillor Michael Briguglio.
The moderate approach, which sought to make political compromises to gain wider acceptance, had not worked, he told The Times barely 24 hours after he lost his seat on the Sliema council.
"Being more radical does not mean AD will get more votes but it will ensure the party remains consistent in its beliefs. In this way it will continue to serve as a critical alternative voice to the prevailing political and mainstream structures, even if it never gets elected," Mr Briguglio said.
After a dismal performance in the European Parliament and local council elections, the party's executive committee will be meeting tonight to discuss the results and the party's future.
Mr Briguglio ruled out any formal move by AD to join the Labour Party.
"If AD dismantles it will be up to the individual members what to do. I do not think that structurally AD will take any formal decision to join Labour," he said.
Just last week in a post-mortem of the EP result, Nationalist Party MEP Simon Busuttil suggested AD activists should militate within either of the two major parties.
He even suggested the PN should approach people like Mr Briguglio, chairman Arnold Cassola and deputy chairman Stephen Cachia.
However, AD general secretary Victor Galea said AD's disappearance could create a "political vacuum" for those who wanted an alternative to the two-party system.
"I fear AD's disappearance would create space for the far-right to grow since you will always have people who vote for a third party because they do not believe in the two-party system," he said.
Mr Galea admitted the party was at a crossroads after 20 years of active political participation: "We need to do some radical thinking. After an internal discussion we should open up the debate to our members."
Tonight's executive meeting is expected to discuss whether the party should wait for October's annual general meeting or call an extraordinary meeting now to discuss the result and the party's future, among other issues.
"I do not think it is fair on the 5,000 or so people who believed in us to simply take a decision to fold up. We have to reflect hard. These were not protest votes since whoever wanted to protest against the government voted Labour. However, at the same time we activists have to respect ourselves. It is disheartening and disappointing to constantly be faced with bad results," Mr Galea said.
The general secretary was the Green Party's candidate for the Għarb local council and missed getting elected by five votes.
On the other hand, Mr Briguglio had already served for two terms on the Sliema council before losing his seat. He insisted there seemed to be a cultural and political trend for people to shift their preference between the two major parties, even at a local level.
However, Mr Briguglio added that the two major parties also managed to contain disgruntlement within the party.
"In Sliema those who were angry with the government either chose to stay at home or else voted for Nikki Dimech who was supported by Robert Arrigo," he said.
Mr Briguglio attributed AD's bad result to a number of factors, some of which were beyond the party's control such as the Broadcasting Authority's attitude that favoured the two major parties.
However, there were other issues attributable to AD's campaign.
He said the slogans adopted by the party were vague and although the "Green New Deal" was something he believed in, it proved to be "too sophisticated" for the electorate.
Mr Briguglio said AD's dismal performance eroded the bargaining power of environmental groups: "I trust NGOs and admire their work but the only thing that motivated the two big parties to take action in favour of the environment was their fear of losing votes to AD."
Referring to the PN candidature of environmentalist Alan Deidun, Mr Briguglio said the electorate seemed to believe that by having good people in the PN, the environment could be better served.
"This is not the case because the party will always remain linked to contractors and unless this link is severed there won't be change," he said.
AD's electoral performance
Alternattiva Demokratika was founded in 1989 by a group of environmental and social activists, who teamed up with Wenzu Mintoff and Toni Abela. The two had been kicked out of the Labour Party after they publicly denounced the violent and corrupt elements within the party.
Dr Mintoff had been elected to Parliament on the Labour ticket in 1987 but went on to represent AD after its formation.
AD contested its first general election in 1992, gaining over 4,000 votes but failed to elect an MP. Dr Mintoff lost his seat.
It was the first election since 1971 that a third party polled over one per cent of the national vote.
After 1992 the party's electoral fortunes did not improve, with one exception: Its best showing was in the first EP election in 2004 when its sole candidate Arnold Cassola polled over 22,000 votes and just missed making it to Brussels on the last count.
Over the years, AD also managed to elect a number of councillors in various localities, even though the party consistently failed to contest in all localities. It now has only one councillor, in Attard.
AD has had three leaders since its inception. Dr Mintoff led the party between 1989 and 1998. He was succeeded by Harry Vassallo, who resigned after last year's general election. Prof. Cassola was elected leader last year.
After last week's EP result Prof. Cassola said he would continue on as leader until the party's next general conference when he would resign irrevocably.
Election - votes
1992 - 4,186 (1.69%)
1996 - 3,820 (1.46%)
1998 - 3,208 (1.21%)
2003 - 1,929 (0.68%)
2004* - 22,938 (9.33%)
2008 - 3,810 (1.31%)
2009* - 5,802 (2.34%)
* European Parliament elections