European parties call for international observers at referendum

European political parties and non-political organisations have raised questions regarding the impartiality of the 28 May divorce referendum, and requesting that international observers  participate in the process to counterbalance the lack of access to Yes and No campaigners alike.

The Electoral Commission yesterday confirmed that the European Greens and the European Humanist Federation are among the organisations to have requested the presence of international observers, in order to monitor proceedings before and during the day of the referendum.

MaltaToday is also informed that the European Liberal Alliance is separately considering whether to request observers present at the counting hall, after receiving reports of political imbalance in the build-up to the referendum.

Chief Electoral Commissioner Saviour Gauci told this newspaper that all such requests will be discussed in depth at a special meeting (to take place “after Holy Week has passed”) with a view to agreeing upon and establishing a set of procedural parameters.

“This is an unusual situation,” he admitted yesterday. “We would like to come up with a set of agreed procedures, rather than just approach each request on a case by case basis.”

Amendments to Malta’s Referendum Act in 2002 – a year before the EU referendum – gave the Nationalist and Labour Parties exclusive privileges in the political supervision of all stages of preparation and conduct of the 28 May divorce referendum: including the automatic right to field Assistant Commissioners.

The upshot is that only the ‘two parties represented in parliament’ can take an active role in all logistical aspects of the referendum process: including monitoring the actual vote-count.

With one of the two parties concerned (the PN) having adopted an anti-divorce position, and the other (Labour) remaining non-committal on the issue, this effectively means that there will be no representation of the Yes lobby at any stage of the divorce referendum at all.

Iva campaign manager Michael Falzon recently complained that this creates an automatic imbalance, which may compromise the integrity of the entire exercise.

“The Referendum Act assumes that all referenda will take place on partisan lines,” he said. “The situation places political parties with an interest in the outcome at an unfair advantage.”

Falzon is clearly not alone in this concern. Correspondence seen by this newspaper confirms that this political imbalance has already elicited considerable interest overseas.

“The referendum on divorce on 28 May is of huge interest and significance, and not just in Malta. It is essential that it be seen to be conducted fairly,” David Pollock, president of the European Humanist Federation, wrote to the Commission earlier this month.

“We understand that your present intention is to limit the right to appoint observers at the count to the two political parties. This risks being seen as partisan, since neither party is campaigning for a Yes vote.”

Pollock went on to urge the Commissioner to ensure transparency and openness throughout the referendum process.

“In our view, and that of many others, it is vital that you allow representatives of the Yes campaign to appoint observers or, failing that, give the right to external organisations committed to due process and rule of law. This Federation is one of many that would be willing to act in this capacity if you adopted this policy, which we most strongly urge you to do.”

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio separately confirmed that the European Greens, alerted to the situation by their Malta affiliated party, have sent a similar written request to the Commission.

“AD has already been informed that we will not be allowed to field commissioners,” he told MaltaToday. “The European Greens have raised this issue with the Electoral Commission. So far they have received an acknowledgement of their letter, but no formal reply.”

Elsewhere, the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) are also understood to have taken an interest, though at the time of writing they have not yet sent any formal request to the Electoral Commission.

I think that is the work of the alternativa demokratika. good job , well done.
'European parties call for international observers at referendum'!! what an embarrassing state of affairs that Malta cannot handle this on its own, could it be that they don't trust us cause the gov and church is one law? Huh!!
The observers should already be here by now...and they should also monitor the full process of the General Election campaign!!!! We dont trust the GONZIPN clan!!!!
If only we could get international observers to watch Gonzipn's dirty tricks WELL BEFORE the General Election.
duncan abela
European observers will be most welcome to come to follow the whole process and scenario of the divorce referendum. I am certain that they will find nothing wrong in the actual election process but what they will find and which should raise concern in European institutions is the illiberal socio cultural climate which implicitly and a priori vitiates any discussion whic challenges the traditional power,authority and position of the church even in the most tangential way. The sooner we make European observers conscious that certain accepted European values and rights are far from being truly achieved in Malta the greater will be the chance of creating an inoxerable pressure towards their fulfillment.
Keith Goodlip
Oh dear, Gonzi wont like observers coming in to catch him out with his dirty tricks campaign.
Would anyone be surprised if the international observers are appointed to appease the Curia and it's bureaucratic crusaders who are paid by the tax payers to deny the citizens of the island their civil rights ? Just another working day for manipulating the voting sustem in Malta. Let's hope that the Maltese in 2011 will send a strong signal to the Curia to stay out of civil matters. A yes vote for divorce should be the conclusion that clearly spells out the rights for the Maltese citizens to achieve the same civil rights as the other 26 States of the EU.
Georgette Bezzina
@ Raphel Vassallo. I have been reliable informed that the LP will be fielding their own Asst. Commissioners. I suggest you check it out with their Headquarters to-day.
this is only happening because the PN has stubbornly wanted to take, and has taken a position on this issue, thus turning it into a political issue. This should never have happened, and the PL was right not to commit to a party stance. Thanks to Gonzi's bigotted beliefs, we have been reduced to the level of a third world country, needing foreign observers to check us out while we conduct a democratic exerice. Are there any lower levels to which we can fall ?
Let them observe well. Let them learn well. This is European law on divorce should be adapted to the law of the Republic of Malta. This is the future for our families.
What is this, they don't trust us. Wow.
Well, why is anyone surprised? This is what you get in a partyocracy. Malta is not a democracy. Nothing in Malta exists outside the framework of partisan politics. That is why a referendum such as this, where the two sides straddle party lines, puts the country's institutions in an anomalous situation. Elections and referenda in Malta are not, contrary to popular belief, conducted by the Electoral Commission. Malta has such a Commission only on paper. Elections in Malta are conducted by the two main political parties, according to their rules, their whims and their wishes. The Electoral Commission simply carries out what they order it to do.