Sociologist from Malta

Friday, May 28, 2010

A democracy that excludes voters

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday, 28th May 2010

The stagnant duopoly created by the Nationalist and Labour parties has an appetite with no limits. Both parties do their utmost to maintain the status quo of political power to the exclusion of other political parties. In the meantime, they do their best to incorporate civil society representatives within their fold, even by attempting to square irreconcilable interests. The hunting issue is a case in point, where the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party speak different languages simultaneously to different audiences.

As I had the opportunity to explain in previous articles, the PN and the PL are maintaining an electoral system that is unique in Europe, so much so that the new British Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, labelled Malta the most centralised country in Europe. Malta now remains the only country with only two parties in Parliament and one of the few with a one-party government. Our electoral system - tailor-made to suit the interests of the PN-PL stagnated duopoly - undoubtedly plays an important, though not exclusive, role in this regard.

In previous articles I also had the opportunity to explain how the PN and the PL are also in agreement when it comes to party financing, resulting in a system of political money laundering to the benefit of big business. The Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (Greco) lambasted Malta's party-financing system. Yet, of course, the PN and the PL did their utmost to hush up this issue.

Labour's infantile stance to withdraw from the Parliamentary Select Committee, which, among others, discusses party financing and electoral reform, will certainly serve one purpose: maintain the status quo. One hopes the new Speaker, Michael Frendo, picks up on the positive attitude of his predecessor, Louis Galea, in this connection, thus persuading both parties to discuss such matters seriously.

When it comes to keeping their duopoly in place, the PN and the PL agree on many other things; for example, they have exempted themselves from the data protection legislation. In practice, this means they are free to use private information of citizens as they deem fit. In an age of information technology and surveillance, this gives the stagnant duopoly endless opportunities to "spy" on citizens. Hence, computer technology is refining their "street leader" system based on patronage and political favours.

With all their talk of improving democracy, the PN and the PL are also agreeing on another issue, namely doing their utmost to institutionally exclude non-Maltese EU voters.

Prior to last year's European Parliament elections, Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party, exposed the fact that many non-Maltese EU citizens who have the right to vote in such elections had been illegally deleted from the Electoral Register.

The Greens exerted considerable pressure on a national and European level and to signal effect. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was advised by the Attorney General to instruct the Electoral Commission to reinstate those voters on the Electoral Register. Incidentally, it is hardly surprising to note that the Electoral Commission (like the Broadcasting Authority) is appointed by the Nationalist and Labour parties, to the exclusion of all other political parties and civil society interests.

A courageous resident, Oisin Jones-Dillon, who is endorsed by the Greens, has written to the European Commission and to European members of Parliament about this issue. He stressed how, apart from a brief period prior to the European Parliament elections in 2004, non-Maltese EU citizens were denied the right to even enrol on the (Maltese) European Parliament Electoral Register until October 1, 2008. Take also into consideration the discriminatory bureaucratic obstacles against the enrolment of EU citizens and the consequence is that out of the 21,124 non-Maltese EU citizens presently enrolled on the local council electoral registers, a mere 2,604 are enrolled on the European Parliament one. The disenfranchised 18,520 constitute over five per cent of the entire European Parliament electorate in Malta.

The European Commission is investigating the issue and is also making enquiries to ascertain whether there are other instances of discrimination against non-Maltese EU citizens in Malta vis-à-vis their voting rights in European Parliament elections.

It, therefore, transpires that, unfortunately, both the Nationalist and Labour parties do not seem to consider all voters as being equal in terms of their rights. In the case of non-Maltese EU citizens, perhaps the PN and the PL are afraid they are less likely to be unquestionably loyal to or intimidated by their respective party machineries. Hence, in Cold-War style, a "new" factor in politics is conveniently excluded from the capillaries of power. If elected to govern alone, we cannot expect any better from either party.

Some might contend that AD has an interest in this issue because of sour grapes following our failure to get elected in the European elections. I assure readers this is not the case.

Green ideology believes in everyday democracy, a democracy of the grassroots in which citizens and civil society are protagonists and not a limited, centralised democracy aimed at perpetuating a stagnant duopoly.

In this regard, we shall continue to be active to ensure that all those entitled to vote in elections, whether general, administrative committee, local or European, are entitled to exercise this fundamental right.

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

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