Back
Register for SMS Alerts
or enter your details manually below...
First Name:
Last Name:
Email:
Password:
Hometown:
Birthday:
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.
Existing users
Email
Password
Sorry, we couldn't find those details.
Enter Email
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.

A fourth division team in the Premier League | Carmel Cacopardo

Newly elected AD-Green Party chairperson Carmel Cacopardo is outspoken on the need for the party to pull its socks up and upgrade its structures to the highest level of political engagement... without losing sight of ‘ethical pluralism’

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
18 September 2017, 12:02pm
Carmel Cacopardo at this morning's general meeting
Carmel Cacopardo at this morning's general meeting
For many years, AD-The Green party was regarded as ‘the new kid on the political block’: a small political movement attempting to force a radical shake-up of Malta’s traditional bipartisan system. That perception may now need to be redefined. Other parties have since joined the fray, and AD itself has been rocked by a number of poor electoral performances. Some even question whether it can continue to survive in the long term. Dr Cacopardo: what is your own take on AD’s situation? Why is the party’s outlook so grim at the moment?  

The reason for AD being in its present situation is that it has not focused sufficient attention on its organisation. AD has developed its political platform, to such an extent that it has considerably influenced all other political parties, as well as the national agenda. But due to the fact that it has been internally allergic to organisation, it has not devoted enough time to its internal party structures... in order to have its members, and those sympathetic towards the party, working round the clock to garner support.

That is what politics is about. Political activism is dependent on organisation. And unfortunately, my predecessors focused a lot on political platforms... which bore considerable fruit... but not enough time to developing an organisational structure. In the three months since the election, we have been analysing and discussing this; I have already been deputy chairman for a number of years, and I have already set in motion the process of addressing this issue. Obviously it will take time... nothing is done overnight. But we have started addressing the issue...

When you say ‘we’, who are you referring to exactly?

‘We’ means the officials of the party. The present officials, and those who will become officials in future. Because there is continuity from one set of leaders to the next...

Isn’t that part of the problem, though? You yourself were deputy leader for a long time before assuming the leadership; the same was true of Arnold Cassola before you. Admittedly there have been new faces from time to time... but the core of AD has remained more or less the same for years now...

I can’t agree. I myself was an outsider when I joined AD...

That was a long time ago, though...

It was nine years ago. There is also an internal regeneration within the party...

Is there really, though? From the outside looking in, I haven’t seen much evidence of regeneration over the years...

That’s because you haven’t thrown the spotlight on the evidence. We had the youngest candidate in the last election. I don’t think it’s fair not to acknowledge that. Obviously we are a small party; we don’t have the large numbers... yet...

But that’s why I‘m asking the question. You say it’s ‘obvious’ that AD is a small party. Why should it be obvious? AD was founded in 1989, and almost 30 years later it is still swimming in the same electoral waters. Why hasn’t the party substantially grown in all this time? 

As I said, we’ve suffered from an organisational problem. And we are determined to address that. I have already set the ball in motion...

Meanwhile, there are also questions surrounding the core identity of AD. When it started out, AD was very much an environmentalist party... at a time when (let’s face it) some of the concepts you were talking about were alien to Maltese politics. Times have however changed since then: now, all parties are at least aware of ‘the environment’ as an issue. This surely creates new challenges for AD...

Of course it does.  The other parties pay lip service to the environment. There are a number of issues they address; and a number of others which they ignore, or address in the opposite way they should be addressed. But AD has not just been an environmental party. Environmental issues are the core of AD as an ecological party. But there are also issues of governance, accountability, transparency... and also civil rights. They could be developed much further than they have been so far. But it takes time to develop things. One must also remember that we are working in the context of a very conservative society...

Well, that’s another thing that’s changed since 1989. Society is nowhere near as conservative as it used to be...

It’s changing, true. One example was the divorce referendum campaign [in 2011]. That was a turning point in favour of what I would call ‘ethical pluralism’. The divorce referendum was the loudest declaration so far that things are changing. Obviously, the focus on the day was divorce; subsequently, it moved on to issues of civil rights: particularly issues related to gay rights. It can move in other directions, too. Change creates an appetite for more change...

It also creates opportunities for small parties. Larger parties tend to be wary of minority issues, because there is a danger of alienating their grassroots. Small parties don’t have that problem... they can attract support by being outspoken on unpopular issues. Is AD looking to capitalise on the changes Maltese society is going through?  And would that include changing any part of its core identity?

I don’t think it is an issue of changing the core identity. It’s more about developing the message. The message can be developed further, as I’ve already said. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the call made earlier this week from the youth Parliament on the need to discuss abortion...

Traditionally, that issue has always been used as a political weapon against the party. When you say abortion is ‘one of the issues to be addressed’... how does AD intend to address it?

I think we need to ignite a national debate. This debate needs to be ignited on the basis that Malta is a country which has ethical pluralism. This means that there are parallel sets of values: what’s acceptable to you is not acceptable to someone else, and vice versa. That leads to the corollary: is it right for the State to take a decision on your behalf? Or should it be possible for you yourself – affected by a particular decision – to take that decision?

I think that is the train of thought that needs to be further developed. In fact, one of the arguments that was raised in the divorce referendum was: if divorce was introduced, it would lead to ethical pluralism. And that is in fact what happened. I think that is healthy. At the end of the day, ethical pluralism means respecting the opinion of others. It’s useless to talk about ‘freedom of expression’, if you then try to stifle ethical pluralism...

On issues like abortion and euthanasia, however, the discussion is bound to be constrained by the fact that Malta has very draconian laws...

The laws are not as draconian as they are made out to be. For example, one of the things that is often said is that it is not possible to have an abortion even when the mother’s life is in danger. That is not correct. In fact, there are medical procedures, in use even in Maltese hospitals, when – under the guise of something else – abortions do occur.

But it has to be hidden...

Yes. The point is, there is a hypocritical facade.... a hypocritical facade behind which everything is happening. So what are described as ‘draconian laws’ are practically toothless. When one sees the UK statistics for persons coming from overseas to carry out abortions... and adding to them the possible numbers of those who go to Sicily... I have been informed that the numbers are much higher than those in Finland: which is the most liberal state when it comes to abortion in the EU. This means that we have a problem. It has to be addressed through proper public discussion...

AD is often – to its credit – the party calling for public discussion in Malta. Yet it remains under-represented in public debate. Do you think AD is deliberately excluded from, for instance, the media?

Of course. We are continuously left out by the media. Often by the independent media, and by the political media only when it suits them. Because when it does suit them to give us coverage, we are headline news. Obviously, it depends on us to make ourselves as relevant as possible. 

But the party also appears to be entirely absent from the media circuit. Other larger parties have their own newspapers and stations; AD lacks the resources to compete in that sphere. Also, AD has to date resisted the lure of financial assistance from business interests. This surely creates a financial disadvantage, to add to the dependence on other media...

Yes. One of the issues we are discussing at the moment is a more robust presence on the social media. We are discussing the most effective way of utilising this medium, and we have plans in the pipeline... we haven’t been idle in the past three months, you know: we have been planning, and costing, and seeing where to get the finance from... we have small sources of revenue, people who donate small amounts... obviously, that has to increase.

One of the things I tell my colleagues is that we cannot play in the Premier League, when we are equipped as a fourth division team. We need to upgrade ourselves at all levels. If our plan is implemented as we wish it to be, there will be more people involved, and this will generate even more interest, and possibly more help at different levels. 

Let’s talk about the last election. Along with PD, AD was invited to form a coalition with the PN. It refused. Some saw this as possibly the last chance for AD to finally elect an MP of its own. Do you regret that choice now?

Obviously, we could have played the double game, and got elected. But when we met Simon Busuttil, we told him: prior to discussing the issues of the coalition, we need clarification of a number of issues. The PN speaks of ‘good governance’, but then practises the opposite. We spoke about Mario de Marco’s links with the Debono hotel business; we spoke about Beppe Fenech Adami’s involvement with Capital One; we spoke about Claudio Grech’s declaration that he was not aware of ever having met [pardoned oil trader] George Farrugia... we spoke about the situation involving Tony Bezzina and an ODZ villa...

There was also the issue of the so-called ‘false declarations’ regarding the [DB Group] party financing issue. No single one of those issues would have been a reason not to discuss the coalition further. But a clarification was necessary. The PN did not offer any explanation. Parallel to that request, we insisted that the format of the coalition had to be such that it respected its constituent parts. We did not want to end up in a situation where the coalition was represented by candidates who are fascists, homophobes or racists. We proposed a structure – which we published at a later stage – which would have ensured that the political programme, and the candidates representing the coalition, would have been approved by the coalition... so as to ensure that we would not end up with what actually happened. Those were the reasons why [no agreement was reached]. In addition to the fact that it was very late in the day. We were ready to speak three months before, in February...

There is however an irony: since its inception, AD has always spoken about the need to move towards multi-party representation... now, we have multi-party representation without AD...

In principle, we are and have always been in favour of coalitions. But not at all costs. In fact, we drafted a basic political programme in which we omitted certain issues on the basis that, though we were in favour, we knew that the others were not...

For example?

We didn’t mention hunting, not to create unnecessary friction. At the end of the day, the hunting issue – for the immediate future, at least – is defined within the parameters of the referendum result. In the long term, we will have to see. But the point is that we made it clear, at all times, that we would only be in favour of a coalition on the basis of an agreed political programme. We were not, and are never going to be, in favour of a blank cheque coalition.

The resulting PN-PD coalition ended up being held together only by a common urge to unseat the Labour government. Is that enough to gel a coalition together?

I wrote a number of articles about this on my blog. The format of the coalition was just to ensure the arithmetic addition of votes. That was the only aim...

As such, it failed quite drastically. And AD did not fare particularly well either. Is this because the anti-corruption sentiment was misplaced or exaggerated? Or was the concern itself real... but AD failed to capitalise on it? How do you interpret AD’s result?

AD lost 3,000 votes in the last election. Most of those 3,000 – not all, but most – were persons who had migrated to AD from the PN; and who were impressed by the PN’s talk on good governance... and thought, on the basis of what was being said, that the PN had a chance of making it. And their vote could make a difference. That was the reason.  

Isn’t that also a failure on AD’s part?

Yes, it was. I’m not denying that. We were right in taking the decision not to join [the coalition]; but we did not have the organisational power to withstand the blows. That is one of the issues we now have to address: to ensure we have a reasonable organisational strength, to be in a position to defend our political strength.