Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Michael Briguglio interviewed by The Times journalist Claudia Calleja




Let's talk straight

Claudia Calleja

The Times, Tuesday, 22nd December 2009
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091222/local/lets-talk-straight

Michael Briguglio. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli


Two months after he became chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika, Michael Briguglio is determined to ensure the party takes on realistic goals.

People are tired of listening to political rhetoric that goes on forever but leaves them wondering what was said.

This is why Mr Briguglio wants to ensure that under his chairmanship AD's messages are delivered clearly and there is no confusion over the party's stand. It agrees with the introduction of divorce and gay civil unions without "ifs or buts", for instance.

"We have to present our principles in a straightforward manner. When AD tried to be vague it didn't work. I too was one of those who pushed for a more moderate approach. But now I see mixed messages do not work with people likely to vote AD," he says, outlining the party's direction.

As he looks back at the party's 20-year history, he adds that he wants to ensure the Green party, perceived as being mainly environmentally-oriented, focuses more on "bread and butter" issues.

"Perhaps the biggest mistake was that we didn't speak about certain subjects such as wages and the cost of living even though they were always in our manifestos... Through my chairmanship, AD is going to build on the work of (former chairman) Arnold Cassola and move more towards these issues," he says.

The 34-year-old sociologist is the first AD chairman who is not a founding member because his predecessors, Wenzu Mintoff, Harry Vassallo and Prof. Cassola, set up the party in 1989.

But Mr Briguglio is no newcomer to politics and he has been involved for 15 years, during which he also formed part of leftist organisations like Graffitti and ┼╗minijietna.

To him, AD is a leftist party because it focuses on social justice and ecological sustainability.

In fact, Mr Briguglio plans on directing the party towards four priorities: social and ecological justice, civil rights and the economy. Contrary to what some have said, he disagrees that these issues are already tackled in the agendas of the Nationalist and Labour parties.

"The Nationalist government speaks about climate change but then introduces dirty technology in Delimara and reduces subsidies on solar energy.

"Labour seems to choose environmental issues when it deems fit and, more often than not, when there is a Nationalist minister or MP involved," he says.

Moving on to social issues, he adds, the government does not seem to be focusing on the right policies because poverty is on the increase while Labour (PL) adopted a populist approach by proposing the reduction of income tax.

"If we want a welfare state that really sustains people it needs to get its revenue from somewhere and the fairest way is through progressive income tax where the rich pay more than the poor," he says.

As for civil rights, the Nationalists were still stuck in the Middle Ages as they ignored the realities and hardships that beg the introduction of divorce. While Labour is more progressive on divorce, he says, there is no clear political commitment.

As he projects himself into the 2013 general election, Mr Briguglio says he believes AD's unequivocal consistency will differentiate it from the other parties.

"Labour is becoming increasingly similar to the Nationalist Party. (Labour leader) Joseph Muscat is giving us a replica of the PN. I think voters are not really going to have such a big choice. Their choice will be between a party that has been in government for a long time and a party that has not," he says matter-of-factly.

"Both parties can lose the elections because of the Green vote. We have to build on that, without becoming a party of blackmailers," he adds.

Responding to speculation that AD in Parliament could threaten the government's stability he says: "That would be political suicide because next time round nobody would vote for us."

While, he admits, it is too early to think about the general election, he seems to have devised a strategy mainly aimed at ensuring AD is more realistic and in touch with the people through regional committees.

"We need to be more realistic. If we can be active on two fronts we should not take on five," he says referring to the rent law referendum where the party bit off more than it could chew given its limited resources.

This also leads him to reflect on AD's main achievements, that it remained consistent and helped raise awareness on various spheres such as the environment, divorce and other social issues.

"If we were in Parliament we would surely change things more... We will fight for a seat but it will not be our only scope... I never believed AD should adopt an approach that having a seat is the do or die of politics. If you have expectations that are too high, and don't reach them, people can lose faith. Politics is not about general elections but about how you influence society and culture," he says.

AD plans to focus more on elections on the local council level where Mr Briguglio is personally active. He admits that when he was not re-elected as a Sliema councillor last year, after serving two terms, he was disappointed and on the verge of quitting politics.

But AD has to fight against larger powers. "Sliema residents said they were contacted by phone by supporters of the two PN factions... Some Nationalists opted to vote for candidates who were not seen as supporting (Prime Minister) Lawrence Gonzi in the local council...The Nationalists are so split in Sliema that at times I was the casting vote," he recalls.

When St Anne's Square returned to the people after the aluminium eyesore of the Magic Kiosk was removed just before the election, his vote determined whether the council would praise the government for embellishing the square.

So, despite "the dirty side of politics" and the personal disappointments what drives him to keep hoping for AD, a party that only managed to attract between 1.2 and 1.7 per cent of votes during general elections?

"The belief that you have principles and you have to fight for them. I was approached by both political parties in some way or other. But my principles are Green... I believe in the David versus Goliath approach. Sometimes, if you are small, you can change things."

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