It’s not easy being Green

“People didn’t vote for us because of our stance on immigration. But we are proposing the most responsible and realistic solution.” Michael Brigulio
Alternattiva Demokratika has been at the forefront in the fight for civil rights, protection of minorities and the environment since its inception in 1989. AD’s chairperson Michael Briguglio on his party’s next mission: local councils.

For the past 22 years, Alternattiva Demokratika -The Green Party has been trying to establish itself as the country’s alternative to the main political parties.

 It considers itself as the natural home of the progressive and liberal. But despite having been on the right side of history twice – supporting Malta’s accession to the European Union, and more recently divorce – it still fails to attract the necessary votes to place it in Parliament.

 Like all Europe’s minority parties, AD sees itself as part of a possible coalition government alongside one of the two larger and longer established part. But does it really see any prospects of alliances with either PN or PL?

 “Yes: with the party with which we share most common ground,” Briguglio asserts. “But we cannot say which now. We will have our manifesto and it will have a number of key points – some of them will be the core issues. We would negotiate with the parties and obviously form a coalition with the one we agree more on most things.”

 As things stand today, would this mean he’d be more inclined to form a coalition with the Labour Party?

 “On certain issues we are closer to the PL while on certain issues we are closer to the PN. But in a coalition it’s all a question of negotiation. However we will never form a coalition with a political party that does not agree with certain civil rights, for example. But on many issues one could negotiate.”

 He however stresses that “certain issues are not for sale” and that AD would never be the “satellite” of any political party: “If I say we will be with the PN or the PL, it would automatically mean that we are the satellite of that party.”

 On an ominous note he adds that the Green vote cannot be taken for granted. “The Green vote can help another party win the election. It’s up to the other parties to decide whether they want to risk losing the election or have a coalition in government.”

 Referring to comments that a coalition would bring about an unstable majority, Briguglio says that Green parties are not in parliament to topple governments: “We would be committing suicide. If we are in government and each time we threaten to destabilize government, people would not vote for us next time around.”

 Recent surveys show AD’s support hovering between 1% and 1.5%. Is this not an ominous sign that you are not managing to convince people? Why is it that some people prefer not voting at all rather than voting for AD?

 “The surveys show that as things stand currently, AD has little chance of gettting elected in parliament. However, surveys do not predict everything: they did not predict the Arab Spring or the fast changes in the Mediterranean. Yet one still has to give importance to such statistics, which as a sociologist I respect.”

Briguglio adds that one has to bear in mind those who have not yet declared how they would be voting.

 “However, I think that next year’s local elections, which are not captured by the surveys, are very important. If AD gets elected, it would be a very important milestone for us. So our main concern right now is to be elected in next March’s elections.”

 Cautiously, Briguglio says he doesn’t want to speak about pie in the sky: “I know it is very difficult to be in parliament. However, I don’t think it’s impossible as certain things are not explained by statistics. If people really want change, they should vote for it. There is no other way to get that other than voting for it.”

 He acknowledges that people would rather not vote at all than vote for AD even though they would agree with the party’s principles. According to Briguglio, people would choose not to vote in local and European elections send a message to both political parties for different reasons – something even for personal gain, he claims:

 “They give such a message because the main political parties are exempt from the Data Protection Act, so they get information of people who do not vote and then try to win them back by promising them favours accordingly. Some people do not vote specifically for this reason. In general elections it’s a another issue.”

Briguglio adds that while he respects the will of those who choose not to vote, at the same time he considers it a mistake.

 “If you really want change or something to be done you have to vote for it. If you don’t vote you are only doing a favour to the big forces.”

 Despite AD’s several attempts to make history by being in government, people seem still not convinced that AD is really the better alternative. How can he convince them that voting for AD is the better choice?

 “When people vote for us they know what they are voting for. If you vote for Labour right now, you do not know what you are voting for … actually we do know some of Labour’s policies: that it supports the hunting lobby, that it is promising everything to everyone, even though this is ultimately contradictory. On the other hand, people know what the PN is, and if they want the same party that has been in government for almost 25 years, then it’s their choice.”

 But if one wants a party that is committed to environmental protection, to sustainable development, to civil rights, then AD is the party to vote for, he says. Briguglio also sounds confident that AD will be elected in various localities in the local council elections. and adds that political parties are already trying to “make sure that AD is not elected.”

 AD, he claims, has been receiving information that both parties are “panicking” in some localities: “They definitely don’t want AD to be elected. It is no coincidence that lately we have been hearing about how Labour is not happy with some of its councilors. Now, certain local councils that have been dormant for years, especially Nationalist councilors in localities where AD is contesting, are now writing in the press. We are not naïve. We know they don’t want a Green councillor and this only hardens our resolve to make sure that our councillors are elected.”

 He adds that it has now become his own personal target to see AD elected in the local councils elections: “If AD gets elected it will be a success. But if not, it would be a disaster. But I am still confident we will succeed.”

 If elected, this would not be the first time that a local council would include a Green councillor. In fact, Briguglio himself was elected twice on the Sliema council, but later lost his seat in 2009.

 Do you think this was a sign that AD was tried and tested … and failed that test?

 “If anything, that election has almost resulted in a parody in itself. Just look at it today: look at what the constituents voted for, and see what they got. The election itself was characterized by a behind-the-scenes campaign.”

 Not one to beat about the bush, Briguglio describes himself as a very effective local councillor who worked very well with both the public and the other councillors.

 Two of AD’s battle cries were Malta’s EU membership and the divorce legislation – both issues which today Malta has obtained. This vindicates AD’s credibility in terms of policies… but could mean that AD has to search for a new warhorse. This cause is evidently the Environment.

 “There are many issues which still have to be resolved in society, such as the environment. The others have painted themselves green, they take photo shoots with NGOs to give the impression they are environmentalists. But the fact is that environment is still a main issue: we still have a lot of pollution, haphazard buildings, development zones extended; we have a huge problem with water. AD is the only environmentalist party,” he reiterates.

Briguglio also questions the other parties’ commitment to civil and gay rights.

 “We are the only party with clear policies on the LGBT community – the PN has taken a very conservative stand while Labour promises everything to everyone, but the only concrete thing we have heard from Joseph Muscat so far is that he will definitely not allow gays to obtain certain rights…”

 He also mentions minority rights, the modernisation of censorship laws and the amalgamation of economic and environmental policies.

 “We have a very forward-looking economic agenda where we say that environment actually creates jobs and if we have a greener economy it would help create a lot of jobs.”

 But is this enough to attract the necessary votes to get elected?

 “As a Green party we give importance to economic, social and environmental issues. There is also a growing consciousness on these issues.”

 By way of example, Briguglio says that the divorce experience teaches us that Malta is moving closer to being a “fully-fledged” secular European society: “The best bet to have such a society is to have AD in parliament. We are not in parliament, and yet we have managed to help Malta obtain EU membership and divorce rights. Just imagine what we would do if we were in parliament…”

 Against whom are you mostly competing for votes?

 “Surveys show that Nationalist-leaning voters are most likely to be sympathetic towards AD rather than Labour-leaning voters. We attract mostly those who are for the green cause, or who are against the two-party system.”

 Where does AD stand in the political spectrum?

 “As we Greens like to say, not left. not right but forward. This means that we are influenced by different backgrounds. I have been very much influenced by various Leftist ideas but I am open to ideas which come from the Right and which make sense.”

Briguglio adds that being Green means sustainability: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability; that one is for civil rights, for a more inclusive society, a responsible society.

 “I believe that the Green Party is the party of the 21st century and next year’s German elections will hopefully bring a Green success.”

 AD is also very clear on its immigration policy. Is this costing you votes?

 “Yes. In the European Parliament elections the PL and PN opted for populist discourse and it did cost us some votes. People admitted that they didn’t vote for us because of our stance on immigration. But we are proposing the most responsible and realistic solution: that there should be more responsibility sharing.”

 But isn’t this what the Maltese MEPs have been calling for as well?

 “Yes. But while the PN has gained some support form the European People’s Party Parliamentary Group, it has not obtained support from the centre-right governments, except some mere token gestures. The PL has not even given the burden sharing issue the necessary attention.

 “We have obtained the support of the European Greens. If next year the German Greens are in government – which is likely to be the case – this would surely change things.”

 Lately in Malta there have been new calls for a Second Republic, and renewed calls for a constitutional reform. Does this debate represent an opportunity of change or is it another sign that change can still come from within the two-party system?

 Without hesitation, Briguglio answers that AD is for constitutional reform and also welcomed President George Abela’s speech on the issue – “especially since the President said things which have been mentioning for 22 years and which are an essential characteristic of a normal European democracy.”

 He says Malta should have true pluralism in the mass media. “If we really want a second republic we should ensure that we really have political pluralism in all aspects of society. Which means electoral reform, proper financing of political parties, that two main political parties do not dominate the Broadcasting Authority, do not dominate the MEPA board.”

 With a second republic, civil society – local councils, non-governmental organizations and the general public – would have a greater say in the running of the country.

 “What I can assure you is, that if AD is in a government coalition we will definitely work for a constitutional reform to make Malta a more democratic and inclusive society.”

Michael Briguglio interviewed by Malta Today’s Miriam Dalli