Time for the numbers game – again

We need to ditch completely the current electoral system and replace it with one that helps the electorate, by reducing the sense of entitlement supporters of both parties feel because they voted for a candidate of ‘their’ party

In a report tabled in Parliament on Monday, the Electoral Commission proposed to move 1,320 voters in several streets in Zebbug, bordering Qormi and at Hal Mula, currently in the sixth electoral district to the seventh. It is also proposing that 1,219 voters in Naxxar are moved from the twelfth to the tenth district.

Currently, both the 7th and 12th district exceed the 5% limit over the average of the districts in Malta as established by the Constitution. With the exception of Gozo, which was declared as one district independently of its voting population, the remaining districts cannot diverge by more than 5% from the average.

There used to be a time when such reports made a stir as this was Labour’s way of gerrymandering electoral districts – the way that eventually led to the so called ‘perverse’ 1981 election result when the PN got a majority of votes but a minority of seats in Parliament.

Since that time the rules have been changed over and over again. First there was the introduction of a corrective mechanism so that in such a situation as that of the 1981 result, seats are added to the majority party to be given a majority of seats. Then this was refined so that the corrective mechanism leads to a distribution of seats reflecting the percentage of votes obtained by each political party in the election. However, this applies to a situation when only two parties manage to elect MPs. When there are more than two parties with elected MPs, there is no corrective mechanism to avoid a party with a minority of votes to win the election – even if there is another party in the Opposition that has garnered more votes than the declared winner.

The report presented to the government and opposition by the Electoral Commission does not have the approval of the members appointed by the PN on the Commission. These have presented a minority report offering other solutions.

Reacting to this report, Clyde Puli MP (PN) has suggested that electoral districts should not necessarily elect five MPs each, as has been the practice for decades.

In fact this was already tried once – in the 1971 election – to the chagrin of Dom Mintoff who eventually won the election and went on to amend the Constitution a few years later to ensure that each electoral district elects five MPs. This was one of the Constitutional changes agreed by the Government and a majority of Opposition MPs when Malta was declared a Republic in 1974.

Puli argued that districts should be established on a more permanent basis, as is the case in Gozo, and elect the number of MPs according to some mysterious formula that creates stability, rather than have boundaries changed every five years or so.

The PN members of the electoral commission did not sign up to the commission’s proposals, arguing that the changes should not be cosmetic by moving a number of streets from one district to another, but they should be the result of more serious grounds. In this respect, they suggested different changes to the districts by hiving off Gwardamangia from Pietà and placing it on the first district, with Pietà moving to the ninth. They also suggested Hal-Farrug to be taken off Luqa and placed in the sixth district.

It is to be noted that the electoral law has been consistently ignoring local council boundaries. In fact, Gwardamangia is part of the Pietà council boundary and Hal-Farrug is part of the Luqa council boundary. I agree that such a change would make more sense as it respects the existence of particular identified localities, even if they are a part of a larger town or village with their own local councils.

The charade of the Electoral Commission presenting reports to Parliament and their being accepted or sent back for the Commission’s final decision has been going on since Malta achieved independence.

We need to ditch completely the current electoral system and replace it with one that helps the electorate, the parties, and the individual candidates by reducing the sense of entitlement that supporters of both parties feel because they voted for a candidate of ‘their’ party. Is democracy being safeguarded by the expensive electoral race waged by candidates of the same party opposing each other in every electoral district? I do not think so. This must be eradicated if we are to move towards a more sensible approach to politics.

How about making Malta one district with any corrective mechanism being made by using unelected candidates in party lists that are submitted together with the nominations for individual candidates before the election – something that would resemble the German electoral system?

Whenever there is any time for politicians to spruce up Malta’s electoral system, they must consider this. But they are always facing other issues...

Meanwhile, the farce continues.


Silvio’s lament

Whenever there is a Cabinet reshuffle, there are winners and there are losers. This is one of those decisions that the Prime Minister must make alone without any input from anyone and without any obligation to declare the motives justifying his decision.

Obviously, political observers view reshuffles as a promotion and a demotion exercise – and so do the politicians involved. But asking the Prime Minister why he took such and such a decision is not on.

Enter Silvio Parnis who until last week was Parliamentary Secretary for Active Ageing and Persons with Disability and who is now simply a government backbencher.

Public opinion perceives this move as the result of Parnis’s mishandling of his portfolio during the COVID-19 pandemic. I do not know whether this is correct, or not.

Parnis has publicly gone on record that he was hurt by the Prime Minister’s decision and that he will not contest the next general election. This was a childish act of brooding in public and says much about his aptness for holding a public office.

Parnis emphasises that he was not involved in any corruption when he was parliamentary secretary. That could well be, but is corruption the only reason why a minister or parliamentary secretary is booted out? Parnis seems to think so.

The problem is that Parnis is judging himself as never having done anything wrong. He conveniently forgets that his following was built on his helping the elderly in his electoral district by delivering to their home the free medicines, for which, I hastily add, they were entitled.

On such proficiency are candidates for the Maltese Parliament gauged.

The Prime Minister’s judgement is another thing altogether, but Silvio Parnis does not understand this.