Sociologist from Malta

Friday, February 18, 2011

Divorce games the PNPL plays

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday, 18th February 2011

The divorce issue is increasingly be¬coming subject to strategic games and manoeuvring as befits the stagnant PNPL duopoly. The everyday realities of thousands of individuals who require this basic civil right are deemed second fiddle to the interests of the party machines. Such a crass lack of sensitivity by the party machines is humiliating for a democracy.

Both the Nationalist and Labour parties have been burying their heads in the sand for too long, leaving Malta in a social and legal limbo on such an important issue.
How different from the clear and consistent stand of Alternattiva Demokratika! Indeed, the Greens have been in favour of the introduction of divorce as a basic civil right since the founding of the party in 1989. Divorce was included in each and every AD electoral manifesto from 1992 onwards. With the Green party in Parliament, everyone would know how we would be voting. No ifs and buts, no procedural tricks, no mixed messages.

While one can appreciate the fact that the Nationalist Party has taken a stand on the matter, it is clear this stand is out of sync with reality in Maltese society. Indeed, Malta has no divorce but separations are on the increase. People are making their decisions and lack of legislation is only increasing hardships on those who need to reconstitute their family life. In short, should divorce not be introduced the likelihood is that separations will still keep increasing, for a variety of reasons.

To make matters worse, the PN has come up with its latest ugly game of technicalities and procedures, leaving many people confused in the process. In whose interest was the “double hurdle” proposal made? One asks what is the real motive of the PN in this regard if not to maintain the status quo.

On the other hand, one does expect members of Parliament to have a clear stand on the divorce issue, especially when, ultimately, it is Parliament which has the power to introduce legislation. Otherwise, why have they presented themselves for election? Well, the lack of attendance of many parliamentarians in Parliament is not very inspiring, to say the least.

Should a parliamentarian be personally against divorce but otherwise recognising the need of its introduction as a civil right is a stand which is welcome as it recognises the pluralistic essence of democratic societies.

The Labour opposition is equally to blame for the mess we are in. Labour’s “progressive and moderate” strategy aims to please everyone at the same time, meaning the party does not have a stand on divorce. What we have is a mishmash of positions ranging from the liberal to the ultra-conservative, which is unheard of in progressive parties when it comes to such a basic issue. This irresponsible tactic is further confusing people.

Labour’s sudden proposal for an immediate referendum on divorce is, putting it mildly, confusing. What side will Labour take if there would be a referendum campaign? Will it be without a position, unlike AD (in favour) and PN (against)? If so, once again, Labour would be putting “catch-all” politics before principles.

Should a referendum take place AD will therefore be urging a yes vote. But the ultimate approval of Parliament would still be required after the referendum. This takes us back to square one: How should a basic civil right like divorce be decided, particularly when this concerns a minority? Here we are not talking about Malta’s membership of the EU, which concerns everyone, but about divorce, which concerns those who need this civil right. No one is obliged to divorce and it would be very cynical to think people would divorce for capricious reasons. The moderate legislation being proposed in Parliament surely does not allow “Las Vegas”-style divorces.

I assume many people are now realising their vote in elections really has an effect on the positions taken by Parliament. Those who thought the PN shelters people with liberal aspirations must surely feel betrayed by the confessional approach and cynical manoeuvring taken by the Gonzi leadership. And those who thought Labour is a progressive movement must surely think the party is more of a “catch-all” calculating machine, which might win elections, yet, which will ultimately change nothing at all. Things would really be different with a Green presence in Parliament. Indeed, the presence of a plurality of parliamentary forces is a main reason why European societies are so dynamic and progressive in their democratic processes.

In the last instance, the divorce issue symbolises whether Malta is to form part of the cosmopolitan world of diversity, respect and choice, or whether we are to remain the backyard of Europe, allowing elites – in this case political and cultural – to usurp people’s responsible choices.
The author is chairman of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.

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