Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, April 04, 2016

How many third parties?


What if another political party is formed? At face value, this may sound exciting. Another voice would be giving more choice to voters in Malta.
But what if the party has no clear direction? Or policy base? Or ideological orientation? Or proper procedure? Or a lack of internal democracy? Well, it could win votes in an election, particularly from those who are fed up from the current state of things. Grillo, and now Trump – two champions of populism - are examples in this regard. But could such results be transposed to the Maltese context? And if they are, would this be something desirable?
Well, let’s put things into context. Following Malta’s independence, Malta’s Parliament was always represented by two parties, bar exceptions when some members resigned from their respective parties. So far, floating voters have preferred to switch from Labour to Nationalist or vice-versa rather than voting for a third party. Of course, trends are not necessarily eternal.
The most successful small party since 1964 was Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party. After its establishment in 1989, it elected some local councillors in different localities, with repeated re-elections in Attard and Sliema (I happen to be the local councillor in the latter case). AD’s best general election result was in 2013, winning 1.8% of the vote (I was chair at the time), and its best European election result was in 2004, when Arnold Cassola obtained 9.4% of votes, under Harry Vassallo’s chairpersonship. In the former case, AD’s share of the vote represented more than a parliamentary quota – though on a national level, and in the latter case, AD was close to election.
The Green Party helped put issues such as environmental protection and civil liberties on the political agenda, and it also played important roles in the EU, divorce and hunting referenda. Its structural position as a party which can ‘take’ votes from other parties gave it a cutting edge.
Other small parties were less successful than the Greens, though Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europa won 2.8% of the votes in the 2014 European elections, or 0.1% less than AD. This ultra-right party fared much worse in other elections.
A cocktail of nonreconcilable ideas and ideologies is a no-go area as far as political parties are concerned
In the past days, Marlene Farrugia said that she will be setting up a new political party with what she considers to be fresh faces having no political baggage. I wonder why the latter is necessarily bad. Using this logic, Farrugia would be immediately disqualified.
Having been in discussions with Farrugia and others on the current political situation, I would like to set the record straight on matters that concern me.
First, the discussions I participated in never formally decided to set up a new political party. There were different views, which, yes, included the immediate setting up of a new party, but which also included other options, ranging from having campaigns on good governance and electoral reform to considering the setting up of a party in the future.
I, for one, said it is impossible to have a political party with opinions that are non-reconcilable. For example, how can a pro-EU and pro-civil liberties Green politician reconcile his/her views with someone who speaks against ‘foreign’ workers (including those from EU countries) and with Eurosceptics? And how can a party affiliated with the European Greens form an alliance simply based on external pressure despite its possible ramifications?
How can someone proclaim a third party when a third party already exists? If one values procedure and internal democracy, one should know that the existing third party – namely AD – requires a general meeting among existing members, before deciding on structural change. And on a Facebook post, Secretary General Ralph Cassar made it clear that such procedure will be followed.
In my view, a cocktail of non-reconcilable ideas and ideologies is a no-go area as far as political parties are concerned, and this can actually do more harm than good to the future of third party politics in Malta.
So can all those disillusioned with Malta’s current state of governance join forces in any way? If an inclusive civil society movement is formed – focusing specifically on governance and calling for immediate resignations of politicians who have lost all legitimacy – this could be a successful way forward.

No comments: