On coalition talks – Arnold Cassola

There has been a lot of talk about coalitions in the past weeks and months. In post-independence Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika has been a forerunner with regard to proposals on coalitions. In the run-up to the 2008 election we had proposed an election coalition to get the country out of the two-party system rut.

Both Lawrence Gonzi and Alfred Sant had answered clearly: “No way”. Even though the difference in votes between the PN and the PL was eventually wafer thin, less than half the votes obtained by AD.

In the past year or so, things have changed completely: Simon Busuttil has ended up pronouncing the word “coalition” quite often. Faced with the unacceptable, unethical behaviour of people like Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the giving away of precious Maltese public land to Gaffarena or Silvio Debono, the non-transparent and dubious contracts with Shanghai Electric, Electrogas and Vitals, and the preferential treatment for Sai Mizzi or Mr Cafe Premier, the PN leader drummed up the slogan “coalition against corruption”.

This is basically meant to be a coalition to get rid of the “pro-business, pro-rich persons” bias (whether crooks or not… not important) and the money-centred mentality promulgated by the pseudo Labour Party led by Prime Minister Muscat.

This call for the setting up of a coalition has fired the hopes of citizens who genuinely believe that the country needs a change in its political leadership, citizens who end up addressing e-mails or Facebook messages of the following type to me: “Now is the time to AGREE and not to ARGUE. It is imperative that you unite to SAVE Malta from this corrupt government who, if reelected, will destroy our democracy (they are already getting there) and will destroy what is left of our environment. Our Malta will be completely destroyed. Malta FIRST, not pride or party. Your efforts will be greatly appreciated by the REAL Maltese population. Regards.”

But does the “coalition” term being bandied about by Busuttil actually signify the meaning attributed to it in advanced democracies? Unfortunately, I do not believe so. In fully-fledged democracies, coalitions are made up of different political partners with diverse identities and different programmes – though sometimes harbouring possibly parallel and converging points of view on certain issues.

In view of these common aims, the different parties decide to contest elections on a common pre-agreed programme, under a common agreed alliance name and symbol. All the other 27 governments in the EU have witnessed such coalition agreements that have eventually led to coalition governments with shared responsibilities.

In Malta, however, the word “coalition” simply seems to be a term that can easily be abused of. The message coming from Busuttil is: “Are you against corruption? Are you against Muscat? Then join us.” Basically, he is saying “contest the election under the PN name and logo”.

And, to reinforce his warped idea of coalition, Busuttil is using exactly the same methods Muscat had previously made use of – he sends messages to select AD activists trying to entice them to join the PN with the offer of tempting party or institutional posts.

Like Muscat previously, Busuttil has found out that our people’s principles are not up for sale.

It therefore has to be spelt out very clearly: while we are open to discussions on coalition lists on the basis of pluralistic European thinking, we certainly refute any talks based on the “come with me” philosophy.

Moreover, if good governance and clean governments are to be one of the battle cries of a hypothetical coalition, Busuttil has to ensure that the various conflicts of interest and the accusations of financial illegalities which his party has been accused of are satisfactorily explained and totally cleared up.

Agreeing on a serious coalition programme, embracing the social, environmental and fiscal dimensions, apart from the question of good governance, is not as simple as talking about it.