The proportionality mechanism was first introduced after the perverse 1981 general election result when the party which obtained the majority of votes had ended up with less seats in parliament and hence remained in opposition. This was the result of the deliberate gerrymandering of the electoral districts’ boundaries.
What followed were years of civil disobedience, violence and general unrest, leading up to the as-yet-unsolved murder of Raymond Caruana in a Nationalist Party club in December 1986.
I had just turned 13 when the 1981 elections were held. My teenage years were a blur of protests, Żgħażagħ tan-Numri or otherwise. I recall the fight regarding Church schools, violence targeting anyone who dared speak against the government of the day and the general malaise which brought the country to depths only seen again after almost 30 years thanks to you-know-who.
Nobody in his right senses would want a repeat of that period. Yet, the way in which the Nationalist and Labour parties have legislated undemocratically is clear that their chief interest is not in democracy but in retaining power at all costs. How else does one explain the mechanisms, now being contested by ADPD in court, which are designed to give an unfair advantage to the incumbents in parliament and to disadvantage the third party?
It has transpired that the 1981 election result was not a one-off anomaly after all. Many electoral results since that day have brought about similar undemocratic outcomes with the party obtaining the largest share of the vote obtaining fewer seats than the second largest party or obtaining an incorrect proportion of the seats in relation to the votes won.
But the way the two parties currently in parliament have sought to address this discrepancy is anything but democratic. By setting up mechanisms by which proportionality is restored only if two parties are elected to parliament is a gross injustice that has served to fuel a broken political system, propped up by clientelism and a continuous race to the bottom.
This so-called proportionality mechanism does not take into consideration the substantial number of votes obtained by third parties over the years. In one particular case, in 2008, the difference in votes between the Nationalist and Labour parties was smaller than the number of votes which the third party received.
However, a convenient myth has been fostered over the years to spread the lie that a third party would bring instability to the government. In fact, two governments have fallen; Labour and Nationalist, without any coalition being involved. Why would a third party that is finally in government vote to bring down the legislature, after fighting for so long to participate in it?
Coalitions in most of the world are the norm and, in almost all cases, they bring about a healthy pluralism of voices. People feel they can change their vote to reward fresh ideas as needed or to make necessary changes for the better. We need a dose of compromise and dialogue in Malta. Otherwise, environmental issues will always be ignored and so will many others.
The same handful of powerful people will keep paying to have their way and remain above the law, whichever party is in government, unless there is a third party acting as a watchdog in parliament.
The gender corrective mechanism, yet another convenient example of institutionalised and undemocratic injustice, is another topic of discussion at present. ADPD will continue to fight for a healthy democracy in which the voices of the citizens are actually heard.
At present, parliament is merely an auction house instead, where powerful people can trod over the rights of the majority by buying the right politicians, or making sufficient donations to the parties. Fair representational mechanisms can be the decisive change to restore the notion of the common good to our dear country under siege.
ADPD Public Relations Officer
Published in the Times of Malta – Sunday