A new political party? Mamma Mia!

According to the Electoral Commission, ‘ABBA’ is… wait for it… “too short to be abbreviated” (and, as George Clooney so often reminded us in all those TV ads: “No Abbreviation, No Party)

I remember reading somewhere that the 1970s Swedish pop sensation ABBA was about to make a ‘comeback’. But… as a new Maltese political party? Contesting the next election?  Now THAT’s something you don’t get to see every day…

And I have to admit: I, for one, just can’t wait to attend their first live conce… I mean, ‘mass meeting’. In fact, I can picture it all already: the lights dim; silence descends upon the crowd; and a voice blares out from the speakers… ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please give it up for the latest Christian rightwing political party to hit the Maltese ballot sheet… the one and only… ABBA!”

The crowd goes wild; and out pops Ivan Grech Mintoff onto the stage, to the tune of ‘Dancing Queen’…

I mean, come on: it doesn’t get more glorious than that, does it? And besides: can you imagine what their campaign is going to sound like? Not only do they have an instant smash-hit anthem, in the form of: ‘Take A Chance On Me’ (why, you weren’t expecting ‘The Winner Takes It All’, were you?) – but they also benefit from a pre-written theme song for practically every single electoral issue.

Corruption? ‘Money, Money, Money’. Data Protection? ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You (Aha!)’; Contraception? ‘Does Your Mother Know?’….

All the way down to Ivan Grech Mintoff’s eventual (and inevitable) concession speech, which is likewise all ready to just be quoted:

“Though I never thought that we could lose… there’s no regret. (And if I had to do the same again, I would, my friend… Etcetera.)”

Seriously, though: the whole thing is so darn well-scripted, it could almost have been composed by Stig Andersen himself. Heck, I myself might even end up giving them my number one, just for their choice of name….

Ah, but not everyone, it seems, is as enthusiastic as myself about Malta’s newest ‘Super Trooper’ on the block. Take the Electoral Commission, for instance. Judging by its pre-emptive efforts to sabotage ABBA’s candidature, before it actually happened… I can only surmise that their own reaction was something along the lines of:

“A new political party? Mamma Mia, here we go again! My, my, how can we resist you…?”

And how, pray tell, did the Electoral Commission try to ‘resist’ Ivan Grech Mintoff’s new Christian rightwing political party – or, more specifically, prevent it from actually registering in time for the next election?

Why… by objecting to the name, of course. And not, incidentally, out of any concern that the ‘real’ ABBA may sue the ‘fake’ one for plagiarism (even if, quite frankly, Yahweh could easily sue them both, for ‘taking his name in vain’)…

… nor even because Maltese electoral law precludes political parties from naming themselves after well-known pop or rock bands, either (which, let’s face it, I would more or less understand. For if the idea catches on among the Maltese Death Metal crowd… we’d end up with political parties named ‘Abysmal Torment’, ‘Carnivorous Horde’, or even ‘Gruesome Funeral’…)

And I need hardly add that it wasn’t – couldn’t have been, in fact – anything to do with the new party’s ideological stance on any particular issue, either. It would, after all, be a little egregious for the Commission to object to ABBA on the grounds of its… let’s say, extreme views on abortion… when those same views happen be shared by all other mainstream parties, including both Labour and PN.

Nor could the Commission have realistically objected to Ivan Grech Mintoff’s anti-immigration rhetoric… not after repeatedly approving the candidature of Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europa, for every EP election since 2005…

No, the reason has to be another; and the official one given by the Electoral Commission itself was that the word ‘ABBA’ is… wait for it… “too short to be abbreviated”. (And, as George Clooney so often reminded us in all those TV ads: “No Abbreviation, No Party…”)

Hmmm. Now: not to be unkind, or anything… but if the Electoral Commission is so obstinately hell-bent on depriving people of some of their most fundamental human rights – for that, ultimately, is what its actions would have amounted to, had they succeeded – the least it could do is come up with a slightly more credible pretext.

‘Too short to be abbreviated’, indeed. Why… that’s too stupid to even be printed. For one thing, because it only means that the word doesn’t actually NEED to be abbreviated at all (Duh!); and for another… because, at four characters long, ‘ABBA’ is actually shorter than some of the other abbreviations already approved by the same Commission.

Like ‘AD/PD’, for instance (and oh look: another political party to name itself after a rock band: this time, a dyslexic version of Australia’s most famous Rhythm ’N’ Blues export…)

All of which leaves me with the sneaking little suspicion that the Electoral Commission may have had other motives to try to (ahem) ‘abort’ ABBA, at a point before it got a chance to be born.

And they seem to have a lot in common with that one time (at bootcamp, etc.), when the same Electoral Commission had prevented Alternattiva Demokratika from using the colour green to signify their party on the ballot sheet… while, naturally, allowing Labour and PN to use red and blue, respectively.

Or when it chose not to issue any public clarification about Maltese voting procedures, when – before the 2013 election – both Labour and PN were telling the electorate that ‘you can’t vote across party lines’ (which is, in fact, what our entire electoral system was originally designed for in the first place...)

Or every other time, at every other bootcamp, when its actions and decisions always seemed rooted in the central concept that Malta – by some sort of Divine Decree – is, was, and forever shall remain, a Two-Party State…

And OK, fair enough: in most – if not all – of those cases, the Commission could always argue that its hands were tied by the precise wording of Maltese electoral law… which, in turn, might explain some of the other injustices that small parties complain about so often in this country.

Not least, the fact that a political party needs to represent a minimum of 16.6% of one district in the Maltese electorate – that’s over 4,000 votes – to get one seat in Parliament; and when no small party in Malta (with the ominous exception of Imperium Europa, at European level) has ever actually managed to surpass even the 3% mark nationally...

At the same time, however, it only reinforces the point that the entire Maltese political landscape is grotesquely skewed to the advantage of the two established parties, at the expense of all others… and that, in in itself, merely cements the perception that the Electoral Commission – being, incidentally, directly appointed by the two parties themselves – is but a small cog in the machinery of a much broader, and more permanent, injustice.

I can think of no better way of putting it, than as a case whereby the Electoral Commission somehow sees its own role as a ‘defender of the political status quo’; and that, on this basis alone, it feels almost dutybound to make the emergence of new parties as difficult as it possibly can…

But in the case of ABBA, in particular… it may have taken that ‘self-appointed mission’ a couple of paces too far.

Leaving aside the small matter that – if successful – this bid to prevent a political party from contesting an election would almost certainly have been ruled ‘unlawful’ and ‘undemocratic’ (not to mention a human rights violation) by any court in the Democratic Universe…

… but it would also have disenfranchised a minority – no matter how small; and not matter how far-removed from my own worldview, or opinions – who clearly no longer identify with either of the two mainstream parties (if, at least, only on matters concerning religion).

And what is that, if not another way to ‘coerce’ people, into either voting for a party that they don’t actually identify with… or else, not voting at all?

And in any case: since when is it part of the Electoral Commission’s mandate, to set limits on the electoral options available to voters in this country? (And even then, limits which go well beyond what is already established at law: i.e., against parties which ‘promote hatred or violence’?)

Above all, however, it just adds yet another reason – on top of all the others I listed above – why electoral reform has become so urgent in this country. Oh, wait, that reminds me…

… what ever happened to that Parliamentary debate we were supposed to be having on that very subject: you know, the one that came to a stalemate recently, because the two parties proposed a system which would have made it easier for small parties to get elected, yes… but then, impossible to ever form part of a governing coalition?

Kind of defeats the whole purpose of multi-party representation, doesn’t it? (Leaving aside that the shortfall in votes would have to be compensated by yet another ‘Constitutional top-up mechanism’… so that our already unwieldly 69-seat Parliament would just keep growing and growing: to 73, 87, 113, and beyond…)

But in any case: I suppose there is one reason we should actually be grateful to the Electoral Commission, for its latest attempt to stifle true democratic representation in this country. It has once again reminded us all of precisely how unfair, and undemocratic, our electoral system really is…

… and with another election now only a matter of weeks away: maybe we did need reminding, after all.

So all together now, folks: “Thank you for the music! The songs you’re singing…”