Marlene Farrugia’s resignation is indicative of Labour’s potential implosion. The Labour Party succeeded in winning the 2013 general election by reconciling different interests, factions and ideas.
This was articulated through the ‘movement’ symbology, which also comprised many non-Labourite newcomers such as Marlene Farrugia.
Governing over such a broad spectrum is proving to be easier said than done. The final two years of the current legislature will show whether Labour’s cracks will lead to electoral implosion, or whether Joseph Muscat’s leadership can remain effective in the reconciliation of different interests, factions and ideas.
In the meantime, Malta is witnessing Farrugia’s moment. She is proving to be a bold, effective and charismatic parliamentarian, and her resignation from Labour can make history.
Farrugia already showed her mettle when she chaired the parliamentary environment committee. Never in my 20-plus years of activism have I witnessed such an inclusive chairperson in a State structure. Now that she resigned from the committee, she seems to be willing to take her approach a step further.
Indeed, she presented amendments on behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika to the parliamentary debate on the Planning Act. I assume that nothing will stop her from repeating this gesture and opening up further to civil society.
In this case, Farrugia can re-invent herself as a non-partisan citizens’ voice. In a context where disillusionment and scepticism are on the increase, such political activism has become quite present in different countries. Parliamentary and non-parliamentary citizens’ movements from different sides of the political spectrum have been grabbing the headlines in Spain, Germany, Greece, and Italy, among others.
Malta too has a recent example of this, when Front Ħarsien ODZ – a citizens’ movement - organised the biggest ever environmental protest, which Farrugia attended.
Farrugia may thus decide to keep acting as an independent parliamentarian and eventually also move towards extra-parliamentary activism.
Should Farrugia decide to give priority to her re-election in Parliament next time around, her safest bet would be to contest with the Nationalist Party. This will be a huge scoop for the PN and can potentially lead to further non-civil reactions to Farrugia as recently witnessed in Parliament. Besides, Farrugia’s ideological orientation seems to be close to that of the current PN leadership.
Or maybe Farrugia’s parliamentary endorsement of Alternattiva Demokratika’s proposals is a sign of things yet to come in this direction. Even here, this could be a big scoop for the Green Party, yet with less electoral chances of success.
When Wenzu Mintoff resigned from Labour and became AD’s chairperson whilst being in Parliament between 1989 and 1992, he was not re-elected in Parliament. Though Malta’s political culture was not as pluralistic as it is now, Labour at that time was in the doldrums.
Besides, Farrugia and the Greens have their ideological differences. Yet, Green politics has proven to be flexible in different countries – with respective electoral successes and mishaps – and the Farrugia moment can prove the spark for a Green re-opening. Even more so when she is a pragmatic politician, and not a dogmatic fossil.
In such a context, perhaps a broad rainbow-coalition can be formulated, possibly providing the strongest challenge so far to Malta’s two-party system.
Yet, this will also face the opportunities and risks of reconciling different interests, factions and ideas.
Ultimately, whether Farrugia’s moment will help bring about substantive political change is related to a wide range of factors, and these go beyond the possible strategic options I referred to above.
Such factors include the availability of political opportunities, the optimal usage of resources, the fact that her husband happens to be Labour’s Whip, as well as everyday occurrences that take place in politics, similar to non-programmatic features of an improvised jazz session.