Dirty tricks in divorce debate
Much has been written for or against the introduction of divorce legislation in Malta and all possible arguments for or against have been thrashed out ad nauseam. My position on the issue is crystal clear: together with Alternattiva Demokratika, I have campaigned for the introduction of this basic civil right in our country since 1989 (not since the day before yesterday!) and, therefore, my vote will be a convinced yes. What has, however, hit me in the course of this campaign is the depressing, sometimes sickening, level to which the debate has fallen, bringing out in the open the worst of dirty tricks.
In fact, the separation of the secular from the religious, which is the hallmark of any modern democracy, has been totally thrown to the dogs in the past weeks. I am not referring to the participation of the Catholic Church representatives in the debate. I believe that, as Maltese citizens, they have every right to voice their ideas. What irk me are the religious arguments brought up by political leaders who are, supposedly, the elected representatives of a lay state.
President Emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami, a former Prime Minister, started it all off when he declared that the introduction of divorce in Malta would go against the teachings of Jesus Christ. I certainly cannot enter into the merits of Jesus Christ’s teachings but it is definitely not the job of a politician, a former Prime Minister and President Emeritus, to propagate the teachings of Christ.
MP Beppe Fenech Adami latched on to a ridiculous argumentation first brought up by the chairman of the anti-divorce movement, Andrè Camilleri, who insisted on the fact that a divorced wife-batterer would be free to remarry and, thus, continue practising his “battering” stints on his second wife. This line of reasoning makes up point number one of the Catholic Church’s 12 points against divorce in Malta. With all due respect, I believe this is a real load of crap. By this same logic, would not an “annulled” or “separated” husband also be able to resort to the same kind of battering at the expense of his new wife or partner?
Finance Minister Tonio Fenech seems to have given his financial portfolio a break for the last four weeks of the divorce campaign to announce that Our Lady of Sorrows is greatly perturbed at the idea of having divorce made available in Malta. Perhaps Mr Fenech could also tell us whether free flights offered to Arsenal supporting ministers by possible bidders for government contracts is also found to be upsetting.
Of course, even the yes camp has made some faux pas, in particular when comparing the seekers of the common good to the ideologues behind the Nazi regime. But, compared to certain laments of the anti-divorce camp, this pales into oblivion. The latter had the nerve to complain because AD, the party that put divorce in the political agenda 22 years ago and the party that represents over two per cent of the electorate (2009), was given 10 minutes of airtime on state TV during the whole campaign.
What nerve! And this when our Prime Minister believes it is such a normal thing to mix together financial matters, politics and religion… of course, so long as one toes the government line. And, therefore, rules can be twisted to make it possible for the deputy secretary of the ministerial Cabinet to go on leave and join the fray. Utterly disgusting.
And, in the face of all this, what does the Leader of the Opposition do? He praises himself and his party for not taking a stand and encourages people to vote according to their conscience. A very comfy way of sitting on the fence. If the yes vote wins, he will join the bandwagon stating: “I was personally in favour”. If the no wins, then he will solemnly declare: “The PL was not in favour.” Heads I win, tails you lose. What clear leadership.
Unfortunately, this debate has brought out the worst in a section of Maltese politicians. Whatever the outcome, I now become even more convinced that the discerning voter can only come to one clear conclusion: you can only trust AD on a host of issues… and divorce is a major one. Vote accordingly.
Prof. Cassola is spokesman on EU and international affairs of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party.