Michael Briguglio interviewed Stephen Calleja by The Malta Independent on Sunday
Since Independence, we have had a two-party Parliament. There have been several attempts by small parties to win seats, but none of them managed more than a two per cent share of the vote, which meant not gaining a seat in the House. In spite of having a situation where a party has been in government for 23 years (with a 22-month gap) and another party that has not managed to make itself electable, small parties continue to find the going tough. What, do you think, are the reasons behind this total failure on the part of small parties?
There are various reasons for this. One is that people tend to switch to Labour or Nationalist, rather than vote for a third party, as they see the PL or PN as being the only parties that can be in government, or because they absolutely would not want the PN or PL to be in government. Others are opting to abstain to give a message to the big parties – as the big parties collect data on non-voters.
Another reason for this trend is that the PL and PN have tailor-made Malta’s electoral system according to their needs, and keep ensuring that Malta does not have proper rules on party financing, resulting in a situation where big businesses finance the big parties. In reality, the PN and PL act in tandem as a duopoly that wants to maintain power at the expense of others.
Small parties have yet to present themselves as a credible alternative, and also have the tough task of explaining to people that they can carry out cross-party voting. Many people in Malta are unaware of the opportunity to carry out cross-party voting, and the big parties do not help the situation with their misinformation campaigns.
How can small parties break the deadlock? Is it only a disadvantageous electoral system that makes it hard for them, or are they not credible enough?
Small parties should present themselves as being qualitatively different from the big parties and for being consistent in their principles. This means that small parties cannot be catch-all parties, and must articulate clear policies for their target groups without trying to please everyone at the same time. Likewise, however, small parties have to be clear in what they will do once in Parliament or in government, and activists must be ready to do tough work such as house visits, maintain a consistent presence in the media and the public eye, and so on.
AD’s best result in a national election was when it first participated in 1992. Since then, votes have been diminishing except for the EP elections, which are totally a different type of poll. What are the prospects for AD for the future? Is AD considering closing up shop as Azzjoni Nazzjonali has done?
AD is alive and kicking, and we are organising ourselves for a better Malta and for future elections. We are updating our manifesto and organising ourselves on a regional basis and also in the youth and cultural spheres. People know what we stand for. If people want environmental protection, social justice and civil rights to be given priority in Malta, together with the need for a healthy economy, they should vote for us. AD is the only party really committed to sustainable development, and our political promises are based on our manifesto, rather than exchanged for behind-the-scenes arrangements.
People are free to vote as they please, but they should also take responsibility for their vote. If you want change, vote for it.
In the past 20 years, AD has had four leaders. Added to this, several of the original members have either abandoned the party to join others or left politics completely. Do you think this has helped the image of the party?
The fact that AD has had four chairmen only shows how democratic the party is. All parties have a turnover of activists, but this obviously has greater effect on small parties, and could have affected AD’s image.
However, the fact that there were and are so many great people in AD shows how rich the party is in ideas. There are many long-time members who are still active in the party, and we are also recruiting new activists.
Note: this interview forms part of a feature entitled 'Small political parties – what future?'
The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 April 2010