If only it was about gender

There is little doubt in my mind that Joseph Muscat’s drive for addressing gender imbalance is not a genuine concern, or an issue he believes in

Joseph Muscat has a new battle to cry and it is all about quotas and gender balance
Joseph Muscat has a new battle to cry and it is all about quotas and gender balance

Joseph Muscat, the prime minister, has a new battle cry and it is all about quotas and gender balance. In simple English, it is about imposing women in elected posts even if you have not voted for them or do not wish to vote for them.

There is little doubt that women are grossly unrepresented in Malta but Muscat is going about remedying that in the wrong way. As has been the case in other subjects, the discussion will not really take off. The ideas will be imposed and those who have questions to raise will be silenced by the din of the Muscat generation – anyone who has the gall to question the Prime Minister’s thinking will be labelled conservative, part of the establishment or even worse, a useless left- over.

The truth is that quotas are not popular in European politics because European parliamentary elections and political parties have solid and fair electoral systems, not an archaic post-colonial single transferable vote system that supposedly allows the transfer of votes and puts the candidate at the centre.

It is a system that was dumped on us by the British colonial masters, to allow for a mixture of party politics – needless to say the complete opposite evolved.

Quotas for women exist in Muslim-majority countries such as Tunisia, Iraq and even Libya, where women are fighting for recognition, let alone participation.

In the vast majority of European states, it is the political parties who choose their candidates and when you vote for a party, you vote for the chosen candidate selected by the party.

So if I am Labour and the chosen candidate for a constituency is Jeremy Corbyn, voting for Labour is an automatic vote for Corbyn. Muscat would love this, given that his appreciation for Corbyn is as big as his love for Inter.

We need to have a discussion, and talk about the quality of our politicians and the electoral system. We also have to ask why people go into politics and what they want to achieve when they get there.

Before I get into the issue of meritocracy, I think we should really declare that setting gender quotas as a separate top-up list after democratic voting is carried out, is the wrong way of going about things.

In the last national election and local council elections, I gave my number one vote to women candidates.
Not because they were women, but primarily because
I thought they were the best choice and the most competent.

In my line of business, journalism, I consider the merits of a person not on the basis of gender. Had the men been as competent I could have voted for them too. Meritocracy goes hand in hand with competence and dedication.

At MediaToday we had one of the first woman editors for a Maltese-language newspaper, Julia Farrugia. And she became editor because she was a good journalist.

The same goes for online editor Miriam Dalli, alas for too short a time, because she is a damn good journalist. It is about allowing for equal opportunities, not rocketing people to the first row simply on the basis of gender.

I am unwilling to vote in any election for a candidate only to discover that my vote has been transferred to a person whom I did not vote for, simply because of some fast-track gender system. This is wrong and, yes, gender quotas applied this way are wrong in this regard.

But back to politics for a moment.

As things stand today, we become Labourites or Nationalists or Greens or floaters because of a number of considerations. First of all the vast majority are red or blue because of their familial connections. A second category choose their party because they are convinced that one political formation means a lot for them. Another segment opt for a political party because it makes sense for them from a career or fiscal point of view.

And finally another grouping choose a political party as a protest vote against another party.

But an insignificant few do so because of political direction. With the demise of ideology, most parties do not really stand apart. The two parties we have are neo- liberal, embrace rampant capitalism, and are unwilling to rock the boat when it comes to some deep-rooted or controversial issues.

On the civil issues front, the PL comes out on top but then fails in the ecology department. The PN is not very far behind in both but characteristically confused. No matter what the pundits say, the attraction barometer of the parties places the PL miles ahead. It is sexier, more lively, younger and more inclusive, and has a charismatic leader.

Time will tell if Delia can turn this round for the PN.

But beyond the political barometer and ideological status of each party, the big questions that need answering are why people enter politics, what do they represent and what do they stand for.

My take on this is that the first consideration for those who enter politics is whether the position will raise their status. Maltese politics is surely not the seedbed of ideas and innovation. Many ideas are not catalysed from the grass roots but from high above and then implemented as one goes along.

There are exceptions.

Some politicians know how to get things done. Others are good at implementing policies, others very good
at simply appearing busy. Others simply know how to be pompous, dress up and never take a decision. Many politicians abroad are similar in that regard.

The truth is that our electoral system does not award politicians who are good at politics, but most of the time, those who are extremely good at winning electoral districts.

Throughout my journalistic years I have come to experience the true men and women in politics and distinguish between those who get things done and those that were very good at talking and nothing much else. Then there are those who could not even crack a walnut with a sledgehammer, but still got the job.

In many cases it is a thankless job but then there are those who have selfishly used the position to advance their position financially and otherwise.

So there is little doubt in my mind that Muscat’s drive for addressing gender imbalance is not a genuine one, or an issue he believes in.

He could never for example be seen as being a champion for the environment, it simply would not be him. Yet, I am still waiting his conversion on the subject just in the same way he changed his position on gay issues.

But I think that it is more urgent and rational to address the question of electoral reform first, revisit party financing, tighten the flow of dirty money to political parties, and raise the salaries for full-time MPs.

The politicians we have today make most of their money from other sources. Some of them earn five
to seven times their parliamentary salary from other sources. Parliament to them is a pastime, an ego-trip, and they would not be able to live on that salary alone.

But Muscat refuses to touch this subject of salaries. Most politicians who hold posts as ministers live
off their earnings from their previous successful professions or family connections. The same I guess applies to Adrian Delia.

Getting into politics is about changing things, and bringing ideas to the fore. The problem is that most of the time, politics comes down to winning the league championship. Just like someone who wants his soccer team to win the league, be it Tottenham or Arsenal.

Now why did I mention these two teams in particular? The answer you will find in next week’s opinion.

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