Hedging their bets on divorce
Some arguments being brought up during the debate in the run-up to the divorce referendum, mostly those related to the administrative and political process, have led some commentators to express their surprise at the way things happen in this country.
One good thing about this is that people who are Nationalist or Labour activists, MPs or officials are getting a taste of what it means to be on the other side of the fence and on the receiving end of the no-holds-barred, below-the-belt manoeuvrings, which perpetuate an uneven playing field in the public sphere.
Since the Nationalist Party has been in power virtually uninterrupted since 1987, it is natural that the blame for the lack of fair rules, the bullying of civil servants who are socially and politically active, the control over public broadcasting through a small coterie of people and the lack of progress on institutional reform lies squarely on its shoulders.
Comparisons to the pre-1987 situation hold no water any more. The people who have voted for the PN because it was a national movement for change have long been betrayed.
Some have expressed anger, and rightly so, that the yes movement in particular will not have access to certain monitoring rights of the referendum electoral process. This is nothing new – the parties in Parliament have total control over the electoral process. You should experience the arrogance of party apparatchiks at the counting hall each and every election to know what I mean. There is no concept of an independent commission, which is trusted to run the process. Even in general elections, the PN and the PL hog the whole process, even though when an election is called there are technically no parties in Parliament.
Given the system drawn up by the PN and the PL, it is indeed very serious for the PL to wash its hands of the whole divorce issue and abandon the whole process to the no side, supported lock, stock and barrel by the PN. This is what you get when you support those whose mission is zero-sum control over the public sphere.
To a certain extent, both the PL and the PN are sitting on the fence. Labour’s Joseph Muscat repeatedly downplaying the significance of the divorce referendum and trying to gain the higher ground by saying the party has given its supporters the right to make their own choice is just a case of playing Pontius Pilate.
Wonder of wonders, Labour supporters need their leader’s permission to “vote according to their conscience”. I beg your pardon, but shouldn’t that always be the case? When voting in a national election how are we all supposed to vote? Are we to vote irrespective of issues and policies?
The fact that Dr Muscat felt he had to spoon-feed this to his supporters just shows that the tribal mentality is still going strong. If a political party cannot take a position about a topical issue, through a discussion within its structures and with its members, what’s the point of having a party at all?
That the PN tries to be everything to everyone is nothing new. That some still consider themselves Nationalists even though they complain about a party that, in reality, has always been conservative and which, especially now, is showing how really and truly suffocatingly conservative it is, is to be expected. Most are not there because of its principles but in spite of them. It suits them well to be on the winning wagon.
The “everything to everyone” mantra may have to be abandoned temporarily but even though the party has taken a stand against divorce it is still avoiding as much as possible the public debate on the issue.
The joke of the year prize goes to the Prime Minister, who asserted that divorce is not a political issue just days after the party (rightly so) took a position on the issue. This is nothing but hypocritical and another way to hedge one’s bets should the yes win.
He can then claim that the issue was “not political”. In the meantime, his party controls the electoral process of this “non-political” referendum – not to mention the very PN-looking design of the no movement’s billboards.
Political parties are there to take a stand, campaign and through persuasion and argument persuade people to support their position. Saying otherwise and still using underhand methods to influence is just spin.
The lopsided and unfair electoral laws, the issues of campaign and party funding, the total hogging of the Electoral Commission by the PN and the PL and the hypocrisy of those who say that divorce is not a political issue but then bend over backwards to influence the outcome of the vote, or, worse still, the abandonment of the yes side by the “progressives and moderates” confirm what should have been clear for a long time now. The PN and the PL prefer the status quo.