Sociologist, activist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Friday, March 05, 2010

Electoral reform via Louis Galea?

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday, 5th March 2010

Though I am not a Nationalist, I have always had some form of admiration for Louis Galea. As an adolescent, I remember him speaking in the 1980s on television as a charismatic voice for change. Even though he has had his ups and downs in politics, one cannot deny his immense role in the transformation of the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Eddie Fenech Adami. It was here that the party managed to articulate discourse that unites social justice with economic freedom, modernity with tradition, consumerism with Catholicism. This made the PN victorious and hegemonic. Without visionaries like Dr Galea, the PN would not have been attractive to thousands of working class voters.

Dr Galea has now been nominated to the European Court of Auditors, meaning that he will have to relinquish his post as Speaker of the House. In this regard, a delegation of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party, comprising Ralph Cassar, Arnold Cassola, Carmel Cacopardo and myself, recently met him to discuss his new role, which we support, but also to discuss pending issues on the parliamentary select committee he chairs. Electoral reform is an important issue under the responsibility of this committee.

One should note that no progress has been made as regards electoral reform since the positive proposals of the Gonzi commission back in the 1990s. Such proposals gave due importance to the need for fair representation of political parties in Parliament and Lawrence Gonzi had actually proposed a five per cent threshold of votes on a national basis for representation in the House of Representatives. But these proposals were never put in place. Actually, Malta's electoral system has been changed in a way that only strengthens the two-party duopoly.

With Dr Galea's appointment as Speaker following the 2008 general election, AD was hopeful that concrete changes would take place in this area. Under Arnold Cassola's chairmanship, we had written to Dr Galea, putting forward our proposals on electoral reform and party financing but, to date, no concrete progress has been made, save for the fact that Dr Galea has now promised us to do his utmost so that the select committee will consult us before he leaves his post as Speaker.

I truly augur that before he leaves for the European Court of Auditors, Dr Galea urges the parliamentary select committee to give the necessary importance to electoral reform. Being the visionary he is, one hopes he has the courage to speak for fair and proportional representation of political parties in Parliament. Or will he succumb to the structural dominance of the two-party system? Should we be optimistic or pessimistic?

Judging by the behaviour of the Nationalist and Labour party representatives in the select committee, the latter seems to be the case. The only thing the select committee seems to have agreed upon with regard to the reform on the electoral system is to widen the threshold for expenditure by candidates at elections. Is this to ensure that candidates who blatantly spent more money than permitted by law can come off scot free?

AD's proposals on electoral reform focus on the need to ensure that the number of votes are reflected proportionately for all political parties with regard to the number of seats and not only for the PL and the PN, as is the situation now. Indeed, the PN's majority of 1,580 votes has been rewarded with extra parliamentary seats while AD's 3,810 votes have not been rewarded with parliamentary representation.

We are for a double threshold, with a district quota of 16.6 per cent that would allow an individual to be elected on her/his own steam for one's district and a national quota with a threshold of two quotas for a party to be represented in Parliament. This system would be similar to that of highly-developed democracies such as Germany. In this regard, it is pertinent to note that all countries in Europe, including minnows such as San Marino, have more than two parties in Parliament. Does Malta know better than everyone else?

Before the usual excuse of "instability" is put forward, were Malta's electoral system to be truly proportional I propose the following three responses.

First, if AD forms part of a coalition, it would be in its interest to seek consensus on the basis of an agreed programme. Hence, it would be suicidal for AD to be in Parliament and give prime focus on making governments collapse; AD would be
killing itself in the process.

Second, Malta's two party-system does not guarantee stability. The 1996-98 Labour government is a case in point.

Third, Green parties in Europe tend to act as responsible partners in government coalitions. The track record of Greens in recent or present governments, such as those of Germany, Finland and Ireland, are just two examples among others.

AD is proposing a fair balance between democratic representation of voters and functional governance. We are for true proportional representation for all citizens, where each and every vote counts the same. Unlike the PN and the PL, which work as a duopoly that excludes others from the electoral process, AD is putting forward responsible proposals. We augur that Dr Galea takes heed of our call!

AD's proposals on electoral reform can be viewed at

The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.

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