Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Marlene impact

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.

2 comments:

Adrian said...

Yes it cannot be denied that given the current structure, small parties only stand a chance to a parliament seat through a coalition with the big parties. Still this brings to mind the following question/s is/are: what are the chances that these same small parties do not become too immersed in the nucleus of the big parties once elected. to the point that they become either powerless or else surrender to the inevitable ideological and pragmatic power struggle within such coalitions? In other words in Marlene's case, what systems are in place that at least would be able to give her such possibility to keep the PN "in check"? And what is motivation for possible PD MPs to not become just other PN mouthpieces due to the power structures within the party once elected?

Andrew Cutugno said...

Adrian I think that largely depends on the electorate, in particular that part of the electorate that has never been polarised. The floaters could never vote for the smaller parties as they could not get themselves to back them not only because of their size but also because in recent elections, except the last one , there was always a major reason to elect either one of the larger parties . With a pre election coalition these voters could find themselves comfortable to vote for the smaller parties . It is then up to the coalition parties to work together for the good of the country. I am a firm believer that the Maltese electorate will make the right choices.