The campaign being led by Lovin Malta against party-owned media is a ray of hope in a troubled political landscape. Today, Malta is the exception when it comes to a situation where political parties are allowed to own broadcasting media. Even countries led by strongmen, like Turkey, have to abide by rules which forbid this. The reasoning is always the same. Party owned media is not really news. It is propaganda. Lovin Malta identified a speech by former President George Abela in 2011, in which referenced the Constitution to point out that the current state of affairs is unjust, and it unconstitutional that “not all opinions can be given the same opportunities to be heard”. Even the Malta Chamber of Commerce is now advocating that political owned media be abolished, as per its Manifesto for Good Governance.
In Parliament, at present, a similar situation is playing out with the question of gender quotas. The Bill was conveniently presented under the usual mould, to ensure that only MPs from the Nationalist or Labour Parties benefit from this system. What is incredible about this state of affairs is that women are being expected to bow their heads and play a certain role, if they are to be allowed to get a slice of this specially designed cake. What about women who do not want to form a part of those parties? Are they to be discriminated against? While the suggested amendment from a PN MP is a step in the right direction, the fact that a certain amount of third party MPs would need to be elected before the mechanism would consider women from outside the usual two party lists is still regressive. It means that a woman who is a third party or independent candidate with hundreds of votes might not benefit from the mechanism, while a woman with 20 votes might get elected instead of her.
There is no such thing as a perfect playing field, but it is ridiculous that in Malta, the political system is so unbalanced that it is the only country in Europe that still has a two-party system. It would be interesting to do a poll whereby people were asked if they would vote for a third party candidate if they thought it more viable. The election of two Partit Demokratiku MPs to Parliament in 2017 is evidence to the fact that people in Malta are more willing to vote for an alternative if they think it is a “safe choice”, since unfortunately, people are driven by fear of “the other” in this country. That is, of course, exactly why we must allow the two party system to give way to something better. If we move away from tribalism, and create a space where citizens of both tribes may meet halfway to have a civilized discussion, then we de-escalate the entire tribal conflict that has been ongoing for generations. We make the country a better place for everyone to live.
It is in this spirit that one hopes that the MPs from both sides of the House will realise that the time for party owned media and special electoral mechanisms for the establishment is passed. It is in their own interest to open up the field, because it will mean a less hostile political atmosphere. Having a healthier democratic environment will mean that corrupt businessmen and crooked developers have less influence over our politicians, because at present, they are able to intimidate both parties into buying them out, by threatening to support one over the other. We need politicians who can get elected by standing up to these people. That will only be possible if they are allowed to have a platform.
ADPD Executive Member
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 17 January 2020