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Democratic deficiencies

A spate of elections all around the world coupled with the never-ending anticipation of an early or not-so-early general election in Malta has made me take a good look at our democratic process

Claudine Cassar
14 May 2012, 12:00am
The world has more pseudo-democracies than real democracies, but the distinction is not always as clear as one would think it would be. Some countries have more deficiencies than others, while others do a better job of hiding their flaws.

One inherent problem with democracy is that the system is based on the opinion of the masses. Once you manage to convince the masses that black is better than white, black becomes de facto better than white, based on the inviolability of democracy. On the other hand we have a situation where often politicians totally ignore the opinion of the majority like on hunting issues or Armier's illegal boat houses for instance. Anyone out there who voted for PN during the last election actually voted for the sanctioning of the illegal boat houses in Armier - however I am certain that if PN voters had been given the opportunity to express their opinion on the matter, an army of bulldozers would have levelled the boathouse city in a jiffy.

Greece is a victim of this flaw in our democratic system, with two parties alternating during the current third Hellenic republic. As the economy of the country was slowly but surely crumbling, the two parties persisted in appeasing the electorate, vowing to maintain the labour and tax laws that were wreaking havoc and destroying the country's financial future. Now that the bubble has burst we are once again witnessing the Greek democratic system coming in between the country and its recovery.

Many politicians in democratic countries claim to have the interest of their country at heart. However, I think that the great majority of politicians are actually dictators who are willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power.  It is checks and balances in the system which should stifle the innate dictator in our politicians. But here's the snag, it is the dictator...err...I mean politician who has the means or power to change the system. The reality is that politicians are more than happy to keep the system that they have worked so hard to master in place.

The fact remains that any system with checks and balances needs to be re-evaluated and fine-tuned every once in a while.

Resting on one's laurels is not good for our country and democracy. Unfortunately, whenever something goes wrong, it is only the loser who is bothered about it. The 1981 election was deemed undemocratic by the PN when the system did not favour them - however they did not offer Alfred Sant an extra MP to reflect his large victory in 1996. Similarly, the PN did not denounce George W as an undemocratic leader when he was elected in 2000, despite his having garnered fewer popular votes than his opponent.

Having more than two parties representing us would definitely strengthen our democracy, but both parties seem reluctant to give anyone else the chance to be represented in parliament. With 65 MPs, any party getting two per cent of popular votes should definitely be represented. And with such a low barrier to entry, many minorities would quickly get a foothold into parliament and the PL/PN duopoly would crumble very quickly.

Another problem with our current political system is the lack of distinction between our legislative and executive arms of government. While the executive part of government is the most attractive part of government for narcissists with big egos, it is also where the greatest potential for nepotism and corruption lies. We are indeed fortunate that so far our political parties have chosen leaders who are deemed honest and incorruptible. There have been several allegations about ministers, parliamentary secretaries and MPs, but never any substantial accusations directly against a prime minister. With the current system being tied so strongly to a political party, the executive branch of government has many times been held back by the (not so honest and incorruptible) people deep within the party. Having a strong term-limited presidential-style leader for the country would ensure that anything which needs to be done for the country is done.

Presidents and prime ministers have egos, and nobody wants to be kicked out by the electorate. Having their terms limited enables them to do what is good for their country without thinking of the next election. Obama will surely do what he thinks is good for America if he gets another term, because he doesn't give a hoot about the election after that. Unfortunately in our little island any decision by the government is measured in votes gained and votes lost and not overall benefit for our country.

President George Abela has started a lonely battle to get parties to meet and discuss a possible way forward in our stagnated political system. The token presence of the two political parties was a very polite way of saying - thanks, but no thanks!!

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