What is Marlene Farrugia’s impact on Malta’s political situation? On November 30, 2015, I published an article in the Times of Malta entitled 'Marlene's Moment'. I hypothesised that Farrugia’s resignation from the Labour Party could be indicative of the party’s potential implosion.
My reasoning was based on the premise that it is one thing to win an election by reconciling different interests, factions and ideas, but it is another thing to govern over such a broad spectrum.
Two years later, polls show that Labour is still in the lead, even though the margin of error and relatively high number of undecided/undeclared voters suggest that a red victory is not a foregone conclusion.
In my article I also wrote that Marlene Farrugia was proving to be a bold, effective and charismatic parliamentarian, and that her resignation from Labour can make history. I suggested that there are various paths that she could follow.
These included being an independent and non-partisan citizens’ voice through parliamentarian and extra-parliamentarian activism; to join Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party (AD); or to contest the forthcoming general elections with the Nationalist Party. I considered the latter to be her safest bet should she wish to continue her parliamentary career.
In subsequent articles during the past two years, I argued that as things stand, the only way for small parties to stand a chance for parliamentary election is through pre-electoral ‘rainbow’ coalitions with bigger parties. The fear of the ‘wasted vote’ would be defeated, as voters who are sympathetic to third party candidates would be voting within a big party list. This could be to the advantage of both the big and small parties on the same party list, and would avoid giving an advantage to the other big party which a voter would not want in government.
In the meantime Farrugia launched her own party, the Partit Demokratiku (PD), and it recently announced its intention to be part of a pre-electoral coalition with the Nationalist Party. The main premise of this coalition, if it takes place, is that it can unite forces to remove Labour from government and ensure that a Nationalist government is kept in check. At the same time, big and small party candidates will be on the same voting list, thus avoiding splitting votes to Labour’s advantage.
There were various reactions to this strategy. Labour said that this shows the Nationalist Party’s weakness and instability, and that only Joseph Muscat can guarantee a stable government. In what seems to be a coordinated strategy, different news reports added that not all PN candidates were enthusiastic about the coalition option.
Carmel Cacopardo from the Green Party was not impressed either, and said that principles come before arithmetic. Henry Battistino from the other small party, the Patriots, argued that with a coalition in place, it is only his party and the Greens which are offering an alternative to the big parties.
On the other hand Ann Fenech from the Nationalist Party argued that this can be the way forward for politics of consensus for the greater good, and PD’s Anthony Buttigieg said that a coalition will ensure that values such as good governance and transparency are in place.
The social media was coloured with all sorts of comments, some being more realistic than others. On the non-realistic end, some expressed the wish to have a change in Malta’s electoral law to give a chance to small parties.
Any serious political analyst knows that a change in electoral law has zero chance of coming to life before the next general election. And in my opinion, small parties do have a chance. If they form part of a pre-electoral coalition, that is.
I reiterate that rather than waiting on the sidelines for some magic electoral moment that might never come, it would be more useful for small parties to try to seek maximum opportunity through existing electoral options.
This would involve compromise and give-and-take, which are two essential characteristics of liberal democracy. But it could also mean that one’s principles are represented in parliament.
In the meantime, as electoral fever is increasing, one can only expect a greater polarisation of opinions on Marlene’s impact.