The quest for democracy

Choosing an election date beyond the end of March will create a situation where Labour’s lead will continue to erode and any comparison between Abela’s and Muscat’s electoral peformances would impinge negatively on Abela

Global democracy continued its precipitous decline in 2021, according to the latest edition of the ‘Democracy Index’ published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The annual survey rates the state of democracy across 167 countries on the basis of five measures – electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties.

The survey concluded that more than a third of the world’s population live under authoritarian rule while only 6.4% enjoy a full democracy. The global score fell from 5.37 to a new low of 5.28 out of ten.

The pandemic was the biggest source of strain on democratic freedom around the world, with divisions between those who favour policies like lockdowns and vaccine mandates and those who are against state interference and any reduction in personal freedoms.

The problem with such assessments is the actual yardstick used. People criticising whoever is in government sometimes have their own idea of how a democratic state should be and how it is run. Most of these ideas are more ideals and are hardly inspired from actual practice to be found anywhere in the world.

Democracy, after all, means different things to different people.

When Boris Johnson won the UK election with a majority of 80, it gave him a lot of authority. Now he is practically pleading to his MPs not to end his premiership. Only a few months ago, those close to Johnson spoke about a decade in power. Now, they are hoping he will make it past Easter. These are the vagaries of politics in the UK where democracy has its particular way of being practised.

Meanwhile, in the US, the way the Republican Party (GOP) is acting belies an incredibly strange system where undermining the basic fundamentals of democracy becomes part of the US ‘democratic’ system.

The Republicans’ blind faith in whatever Donald Trump says or wants, have led them to pass a resolution censuring all those who openly disagree with their party’s ‘legitimising’ of the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol. The GOP no longer has any coherent policy goals and the single unifying requirement is being blindly loyal to Donald Trump. Anyone willing to follow that line is welcome. Others are discarded.

This is a typical example of how one man can take over a political party and change it into a personal fiefdom. Trump did it in the US and Joseph Muscat did it in Malta.

It is a trap that the Republicans in the US cannot get out of. In Malta, the Labour Party is struggling to get out of Muscat’s clutches.

In the circumstances, it is no wonder that many Maltese voters are now considering thinking of not voting at all – something that in Malta was the chosen path of very few people, hardly affecting the results of our general elections.

Not so this year. Circumstances have led to many people that have decided not to vote. This has been confirmed by the latest MaltaToday electoral survey.

I have already predicted that the number of abstainers in the election due soon this year will be much more than normal. In Malta ‘normal’ is a staggering 90%+ of registered voters casting their vote to the PL or to the PN. The new normal will be quite different.

This could include – hopefully - a change in our electoral system, which is hardly a democratic one, with candidates being expected to hand out material gain in return for a vote. This practice persists and will continue to persist unless our electoral system is radically changed.

Democracy, it seems, has different meanings in different countries and different circumstances. NGOs like Repubblika, who aim at a very high standard of democratic practices in Malta, help to keep the Maltese population aware of the deficiencies in our democratic system; even though too often they overdo it by being too finicky and legalistic, enticing a popular negative reaction.

The next steps in the evolution of Malta’s democracy will have to be taken after the election with its foregone conclusion, even though the PN seems to be closing the gap. One hopes that when the old PL-PN dichotomy will be eventually shattered, the Maltese people will be better served.

Meanwhile, the polls also indicate that procrastination in calling the elections on the part of the PM, Robert Abela, will be to the PN’s advantage.

Choosing an election date beyond the end of March will create a situation where Labour’s lead will continue to erode and any comparison between Abela’s and Muscat’s electoral peformances would impinge negatively on Abela. It would also be an indication of Abela’s future death knell.

Another five years pass more quickly than people sometimes percieve.

Enforcement failure

The European Commission will be taking the Maltese government to court over the dumping of tonnes of dirty water into surrounding waters, claiming that Malta has failed to follow the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, even though it should have been fully compliant way back in 2007.

Malta’s main issue is the performance of waste-water treatment plants, with waste water leaving the plants failing to meet quality requirements.

The problem, as the EU itself acknowledges, is the result of the discharge of animal manure into the waste-water system. This has been a long-standing problem hampering the performance of the treatment plants that were heavily subsidised by EU pre-accession funds.

Most animal breeders – usually chicken batteries, pig rearing units, cows kept for producing milk and horses scattered in stables all over the two islands – have always resisted changing their method of waste-disposal, with the authorities apparently unable to rein them into a system whereby discharge from such farms or units should never end in the public sewage system. For many of them, this is the cheapest form of disposal, albeit illegal.

This is a serious enforcement problem that has led to the authorities never managing to eradicate the illegal practice.

Such news appearing in the international press could have negative effects on our tourism, even though the three sewage processing plants discharge ‘clean water’ in areas that are not normally used for public swimming. A would-be tourist will not be aware of this, of course.

Once again, this is yet another enforcement failure.