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The politics of consensus

Marlene Farrugia understands only too well that standing for election on one’s own, will counter-intuitively, help Labour get an approval for the corruption and the inequality it engenders

Ann Fenech
19 April 2017, 9:37am
Simon Busuttil is putting forward proposals for strong institutions whose leaders are appointed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and who do not assume politicians are upright and genuine but get on with their work without fear or favour
Simon Busuttil is putting forward proposals for strong institutions whose leaders are appointed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and who do not assume politicians are upright and genuine but get on with their work without fear or favour
The ongoing discussions between Simon Busuttil and Marlene Farrugia about a possible agreement between the Nationalist Party and the newly-formed Democratic Party is a step in the right direction.

No wonder Labour and its fellow travellers are panicking and feeding all kinds of fantasies through Labour’s and Labour-friendly media to divert attention from the essence of these talks: a truly new way of doing politics, the politics of consensus. 

There are politicians around the world who believe that power is about occupying and monopolising the institutions of the State and then drawing as much status and income from the exercise as they possibly can. This is the idea that mediocre and self-serving politicians peddle in backward countries and we’re seeing it in full swing in the present Labour government of Malta.

There are other politicians – many more – in advanced democracies who, in contrast, believe that politics is about diverse opinions coming together and achieving broad agreement on policies that can serve the people, not themselves. 

This idea of consensual politics has been distilled by an eminent political scientist of our time, Arend Lijphart. He argues that true democracy in advanced societies is not about a monopoly of power in an ‘elective dictatorship’; true democracy is about sharing power and building consensus so that people can move forward together.

In his ‘Patterns of Democracy’ (1999), Lijphart compares 36 advanced democracies. He finds that consensus democracies do better for their citizens: consensus democracies take better care of minorities, the environment and equality. Politics in consensus democracies is fairer and less divisive, while politicians talk less, team up more and achieve better results for their fellow countrymen.

This is the breath of fresh air we need in Malta too: politicians with a vision of service, not little autocrats with a big ego. And we need all hands on deck to defeat the corruption and inequality that are warping the very fabric of our society. 

In post-1987 Malta, we became used to having institutions that assume that the Prime Minister – whoever he or she may be – is serious and genuine enough to appoint independent and strong leaders of these institutions to limit politicians’ power, and fight its abuse and corruption. But what we’re getting now are appointments that make a mockery of independence, with institutions persecuting anyone who’s not bought by the government while defending, whitewashing and covering up corruption and the plunder of State resources. 

This is why Simon Busuttil is putting forward proposals for strong institutions whose leaders are appointed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and who do not assume politicians are upright and genuine but get on with their work without fear or favour.

Simon Busuttil is also talking about the inequality made acceptable by corruption. We need to address the scandal of hundreds of workers engaged by government through a union at minimal pay and rights; the downward pressure on wages and pensions with measly increases that do not make up for real inflation; the investment deficit in our infrastructure; the destruction of our environment. We need to address the crime wave we’re witnessing while thousands of corrupt visas have been issued in a whole series of scandals; the teacher crisis; the lack of setting up of new economic sectors that can pay better wages to Maltese workers.

All of this running parallel to the creation of new economic sectors and areas of activities which are really pro business as indeed the Nationalist Party is truly known for. This gov-ernment has misused the term “pro business” as it has misused so many others. “Pro business” means providing the incentives and ideas for the development of new sectors in which our people and youth can develop, excel and thrive. “Pro business” does not mean providing a totally un-level and corrupt playing field where the majority of the winners are handpicked and chosen in advance by the governing regime.

This is why we need all hands on deck. Our Constitution and electoral laws were amended in 1987 after a five-year struggle for fair electoral rules and they talk about ‘political parties’, not alliances.

Marlene Farrugia is leading a new political party mostly made up of former Labour support-ers who can genuinely see that the present Labour government is the antithesis of what being Labour and Socialist really means, and that the Nationalist Party has by far a greater social conscience. Yet she understands only too well that standing for election on one’s own, will counter-intuitively, help Labour get an approval for the corruption and the inequality it engenders.

The agreement which is still being discussed by both sides and which will have to be debat-ed and approved internally, will enhance the possibilities that this country enters a new phase in its political development: that of consensus politics; politics less obsessed with ego and more intent on coming up with agreed and fair solutions from which everyone will benefit. 

Ann Fenech is president of the Executive Committee of the Nationalist Party

Ann Fenech is president of the executive committee of the Nationalist Party
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