The people’s referendum

April’s referendum is a litmus test for environmental groups and civil society. They cannot afford to fail.

I was bracing myself for [and dreading] yet another PL versus PN election campaign, three years before a general election. Thank God it won’t happen. Both parties have promised that they will let the people decide the fate of spring hunting and that they will not campaign.

The Prime Minister cited pre-electoral pledges as the reason for his vote in favour of spring hunting, and the Leader of the Opposition argued that his position was consistent with that of the past nine years when the previous administration fought and won battles to retain the derogation to allow hunting.

Their position, environmentalists will argue, symbolizes the political might of the hunting lobby, even though the majority of hunters backed Labour in the last general election. But, at least, Labour and PN, with the exception of AD, are out of the way and will not pollute the discussion with their partisan campaigns. We should now enjoy a civilised campaign. Amen for that.

Joseph Muscat

The Prime Minister’s position in favour of spring hunting should come as no surprise in view of his previous declarations and the mandate he was given. Muscat said that he would respect the will of the people. He has no choice but to.

April’s referendum will decide, once and for all, whether spring hunting in Malta will be abolished or retained, and the Prime Minister has no option but to accept the people’s will. Muscat is a shrewd political strategist, but his body language often gives it away: he seems confident that the ‘Yes’ vote will triumph. If it doesn’t, he can always tell the hunters that had no choice but to respect the people’s will.

A 45,000-strong petition to demand an abrogative referendum on the legal notice authorizing spring hunting threatens the deal reached before the 2003 EU referendum to retain spring hunting and Muscat’s pre-electoral pledges to retain spring hunting. A victory for the coalition against spring hunting would mean that spring hunting will be abolished under his watch, despite a pre-electoral pledge that a Labour government would guarantee spring hunting.

Simon Busuttil

Questioned by Malta Today journalist Jurgen Balzan during a PN activity in Zurrieq in the run up to the MEP elections [May, 11th 2014], Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil argued that “the PN will not politicize the referendum and allow the people to decide.”

He also “ruled out backing the campaign to ban spring hunting, insisting that the party must respect the promise it made to hunters prior to the 2003 referendum on EU accession.”

The majority of hunters backed Labour at the last general election; however Busuttil remains consistent to that position as expressed in May 2014. Whether you agree with his position or not, had Busuttil opted for a ‘Yes’ vote, he would have been accused of going back on his word and what he, on behalf of his government, negotiated for with the EU. He could have opted not take a stand, and then he would have been accused - and rightly so, of being indecisive and irrelevant. Only time will tell whether today Busuttil made the right move.

A litmus test for civil society

Should the people opt to abolish spring hunting, it will be an embarrassing defeat for Labour and the PN, and of course the hunters’ and their representatives FKNK. On the other hand, it would be a significant victory for the anti-spring hunting coalition which is supported by the influential independent media, namely: Malta Today; The Times and The Malta Independent. However, should the ‘Yes’ vote triumph, that would speak volumes about the influence of the environmental lobby and the independent media in Malta.

Staunch PL and PN supporters will probably vote according to the Leaders’ declared positions. However, if opinion polls are to be believed, the anti-spring hunting lobby has more than a fighting chance of winning next April’s referendum. April’s referendum is a litmus test for environmental groups and civil society. They cannot afford to fail.

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