Sociologist, local councillor, activist, drummer from Malta

Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking sides on divorce

Michael Briguglio

The Times, 29th October 2010

The politics of divorce in Malta is clearly developing into four camps. Those who are in favour of introducing this basic civil right (the Yes side), those against (the No side), those with no position so far (the Undecided) and those who are sitting on the fence (the Wafflers). Who are the members of these groups?

The Yes side is made up of those who believe that divorce is a basic civil right that should form part of Malta’s legislation as is the case with the rest of the world (save for the Philippines and the Vatican). Only one political party is in this camp, namely Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party, which has been calling for this basic civil right since it was founded in 1989. This position is found in all of our manifestos and electoral programmes.

In the Yes camp one also finds some politicians from the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party who are standing up to be counted and who made it clear what they shall vote for. These include Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Evarist Bartolo, and the latest addition, Marlene Pullicino. The latter has declared she will not impose her personal beliefs on others and that she is for freedom of choice. I cannot see why she should be castigated just because her position matured from that of a No position in the light of realities. I thought that human beings have a mind precisely to use it and not to keep it fossilised.

Various opinion makers are also clearly part of the Yes camp, ranging from Daphne Caruana Galizia to Martin Scicluna.

The No side is made up of those who believe that divorce will do more harm than good and who believe that the introduction of divorce will increase marriage breakdown. Often the opposition stems from a doctrinaire Catholic position.

Indeed, the Catholic Church and various conservative Catholic opinion makers (such as Fr Joe Borg) form part of this camp, together with politicians who have declared their opposition to divorce like Edwin Vassallo from the PN and Adrian Vassallo from the PL. I have full respect for such persons who are clear in their pronouncements on the issue.

The Undecided include various MPs, civil society organisations and opinion makers who have not yet taken a position or who have not yet made it public but who might do so in the near future. In this regard, it is surprising how some progressives have not yet pronounced themselves on the issue.

The Wafflers are those who either have a personal stand but are trying to please everyone or who are trying to wash their hands of any responsibility on such an important issue. This includes both the Nationalist and Labour parties conveniently acting like Pontius Pilate.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is a prime example of the Wafflers’ camp because, although he has made it clear that he is against divorce, he has apparently decided for a referendum in order to play safe with all the electorate. Labour leader Joseph Muscat follows suit in a clear case of defensive strategy. As he recently put it on Bondiplus, his parliamentary vote will depend on what the PN does. I cannot believe how the Leader of the Opposition prefers waffle than a clear stand for his party, even though he had said he is personally in favour of divorce. I really don’t think his advisors are proposing smart strategies at all.

Wafflers also include certain opinion makers, including some academics, who are often outspoken on minor intellectual curiosities – interesting as they may be – but dead silent on issues pertaining to the public sphere.

Given that both the Nationalist and Labour parties do not have the courage to pronounce themselves on divorce and given that they are aiming to please everyone on the issue it is not surprising that there seems to be tacit agreement for a referendum.

I personally believe divorce should form part of our legislation automatically as this is a basic civil right. But, like all other issues, the political factor cannot simply be ignored. We live in a context. In short, if the Prime Minister decides for a referendum, one must campaign within this reality.

Hence, Alternattiva Demokra¬tika – the Green party will be campaigning for a Yes vote for the introduction of divorce.

Unlike other parties, we are not sitting on the fence with vox-pop politics. We are clear in our stand and we respect the position of our adversaries who are against the introduction of divorce. We also expect clear and fair rules in the referendum issue.

I therefore appeal to all those who are in favour of the introduction of divorce to stand up and be counted for the introduction of this basic civil right.

Anyone wanting to form part of the Yes campaign should join forces. Arguing for a boycott of the referendum will only play in the hands of the No camp. It would be a classic case of “divide-and-rule” politics, which the Romans were so fond of.
Pontius Pilate politics, once again…
The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.

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