A small party that ‘thinks big’ | Sandra Gauci

For newly-elected ADPD chair Sandra Gauci, there is a good deal more to leading a ‘Green Party’, than just ‘being Green’...  

newly-elected ADPD chair Sandra Gauci
newly-elected ADPD chair Sandra Gauci

In your first interview after being elected party leader, you said that ‘Alternattiva Demokratika cannot expect environmentalists to automatically vote for it, just because it’s a Green Party’. This raises the question of what ADPD actually stands for, outside the realm of environmentalism. What other reasons are there – apart from Green issues - to vote Green, anyway? 

Well, since I've been in this position, the topics we’ve been discussing have not been not limited to just the environment. This is, in fact, part of what I meant by that earlier comment. As a party, we need to be credible about more than the environment: which remains our main focus, naturally. But it’s not the only one.  

There are a whole load of other issues we also need to be credible about: such as corruption, traffic management, education, and so on. Because we're a political party, not an NGO. So we need to put forward credible, doable proposals: of the kind which can actually be enacted, in a scenario where we get elected. 

And OK, I know we’ve never arrived at that scenario before. But then again, we need to at least start thinking that way. Otherwise, we would be restricting ourselves; and we’d end up like some sort of pressure group... which I don't want ADPD to be, ever.  

Don’t get me wrong: I am well aware of our limitations, as a small party. But I don’t think we would be losing anything, by trying to be more ‘daring’... and by ‘thinking big’. Because after all: why not? I mean, what do we have to lose, anyway? We're not in Parliament; and – unlike the bigger parties - we don't have anyone ‘pulling our strings’, so to speak. And that also means... we're ‘free’. 

So I say: then let's be more daring! Let's try things out. You never know: some things might work; others might not. But I do think we should be more adventurous, as a party.  

What do you mean by being ‘more adventurous’, though? To give you an example: for years, ADPD had resisted being drawn into the abortion debate, for fear of being labelled ‘pro-abortion’. But let’s face it: that taboo has now been broken. Not only have numerous NGOs already come out in favour of abortion... but the issue itself was put on the national agenda by another small party (PD). Isn’t it a little late in the day, then, to be ‘daring’ on issues like these?  

I’m not so sure that the abortion taboo is as ‘broken’, as you say. It is true, perhaps, that the issue is no longer as controversial as it was around 20 years ago. But when you take into account how our society has remained, even though we're in 2023: I would say that it is still ‘courageous’, for a political party to speak out openly in favour of decriminalising abortion.  

And my own experience, in the short time I’ve been involved with ADPD, confirms this. When I first joined the party, there was an evident reluctance to even discuss the issue, at all... still less, to take up an actual position on the issue. So it is still considered something a bit ‘daring’, in Malta: even if attitudes are changing... just this morning, in fact, there was an article about how the NCPE (National Commission for the Promotion of Equality) has now come out in favour of decriminalisation, too. 

So this sentiment is there, and it’s growing: in part because pro-choice activists have been openly advocating the decriminalisation of abortion for some time now. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t others who are too afraid to speak out.  

In fact, there is still a lot of omerta’ in Malta. Let’s face it: people here are afraid of everything. I'm trying to meet new people all the time, to try and get them involved... and I always hear the same thing: “Don't reveal my name! I don't want to show my face!” etc. etc.  

There is basically this huge fear, that if you dare to ever speak up, about anything at all... you're already considered a ‘rebel’. So people’s survival instincts tell them to simply ‘shut up’; [because they feel that] ‘There's no chance of winning against the bad guy’, so to speak. And everyone is expected to just stay there, and simply accept everything, without ever fighting back.  

But... that's not me! 

Back to environment issue: earlier, you said that you didn’t want ADPD to become ‘just another pressure group’... 

[Emphatically] Yes. 

But on the basis of your other argument, that ‘ADPD cannot rely on the automatic support of Malta’s environmentalists’: one possible explanation is that the local pressure groups active in this field – e.g. Moviment Graffitti – are perceived as being more ‘effective’, in their methods, than ADPD.  Could it be, then, that people are now turning to NGOs, rather than political parties, for action on environmental issues?  

I know what you mean. Truth be told: the total disillusionment on the environmentalist front - which had originally affected mainly the PL and PN – has now spread out to also start affecting us, up to a certain extent.  

And at this moment, I feel as though people are ‘watching us’, in a way - especially me, right now - because... well, you know how it is, with the ‘mentality of the leader’ that exists here. People want to see how ADPD is actually going to ‘work’, under my leadership.  

So I accept your criticism. As you rightly say: yes, Graffitti has done a lot of work, which I think we should have done, really. But then, you also have to look at the resources - especially, the human resources - that the party has to actually work with. Because ultimately, you can only work with what you have.  

This is why the one thing that I am currently working on, around the clock, is finding new people, and new faces. And I’m managing, so far. Tomorrow [Saturday], for example, we're finally going to meet with the party’s youth section: which has been dormant for these past years. And I'm very happy about that. Mina Tolu has now taken over the task of training and... let’s say, ‘nurturing’ these young, enthusiastic people: which already gives me a lot of hope for the future.  

And from there - later on – we will also unveil our latest batch of candidates for the local council elections. This is, in fact, what I’ve been working on the most. I had a specific target in mind, for the number of candidates we want to field next year. And so far, I’ve managed to reach that target... 

What was that target, specifically? 

For the moment, we’re aiming for 10 candidates: bearing in mind, of course, that right now we don’t have any local councillors, anywhere...  

That pre-empts a question I was going to ask anyway. Historically, ADPD has always concentrated its efforts only on a handful of districts. Namely, the 9th, 10th and 11th: i.e, Sliema, St Julian’s and Gzira. This is perhaps understandable, given the party’s background. But doesn’t that also limit the party’s reach, only to a certain demographic? And would you agree that there is an element of ‘classism’, in ADPD’s current appeal? 

Oh, yes. I've heard that as a critique, before. There was a point in time where it was arguably justified, too. ADPD was, in fact, associated with this sort of classist, elitist stance: even on certain issues. But I’m definitely not like that, myself. I don’t want any of that; I don't want even a whiff of it, to be honest.  

I come from a working class family; and I've struggled all my life. And this is not some kind of ‘tear-jerking’ story, by the way. It's my reality. I DO come from a working class family.... and a such, I know the value of every single cent. And I know the value of the working class, and the respect that it deserves. Especially now: because at this point in our history, I think it's being used and abused too much by the system.  

And I know how it feels, because I’ve been there. I’ve lived through it. It’s not easy to live from hand to mouth; it’s not easy to tell your children that you have to wait for the next pay-cheque, to get them whatever it is they want: be it new running shoes, something for school, etc. So definitely, that elitist thing is not on my agenda at all.  

Do you think it may have affected ADPD’s performance in the past?  

Probably, yes. But to be honest, I’m not very into ADPD’s history; because I’m looking forward, not backwards. I still admire certain things, like the way the party used to protest about certain issues in the past; they were much more ‘exciting’ in those days, if you know what I mean.  

But I honestly think that now, the way forward is to be more grounded; more down to earth; and closer to the people... especially, the working class people, because that’s the the section of society which is being neglected the most. Because now, the ‘classist’ attitude is coming from the Labour Party: which is very obviously governing only for a select few. And the rest of us have to bear the brunt, of the greed of this ‘select few’.  

The only thing ‘we’ get, out of all this, is all the dust, noise and traffic; while ‘they’ are there to collect pay-cheques. And this is being felt across the country: because I get phone-calls from literally all parts of Malta and Gozo, with examples of the same kind of greed and abuse... and always by the same people. It’s always the same names that keep cropping up, in all these episodes of abuse.  

In a nutshell: on one hand, there’s a new ‘elite class’ of building contractors, and powerful businessmen; and on the other, there’s... ‘just us’.  

And it’s all getting too much, now... 

Interestingly enough, another criticism often levelled at Alternattiva Demokratika (by Nationalists) in the past, is that the Green Party ‘only ever took votes away from the PN, and not Labour’... 

[Laughing] Not this time! 

Well, that’s precisely what I’m coming to. It seems you are now consciously striking out in the opposite direction: trying to appeal more to disillusioned Labour voters, than Nationalists. Am I right? And is this a deliberate strategy, on your own part? 

Yes, totally. And up to a point, it’s also inevitable, really: because when you’re trying to get closer to the people - which is something we’re currently working on; and which is already giving results - you tend to choose those topics which are much closer to the people’s needs; and to concentrate on those issues that are being ‘felt’, the most.  

So where the PL is lacking, we are trying to fill in the void; and – with all humility – I think people are noticing this. And yes: this is something we are actively working on. We are trying to adopt these ‘orphaned’ PL supporters - and Nationalists, too; even though, let’s face it, the Labour supporters are a bit angrier, right now... 

And I see nothing wrong, myself  - though I know some people out there hate this word – with giving a ‘socialist tinge’ to our policies: by taking care of the most vulnerable [‘batut’]; the marginalised; the deprived; the people on minimum wage, and all that. 

Because if we want to elevate our society, we have to start from the bottom up. We are living in a society where the people at the top have... well, ‘all the money’, basically; while the people at the bottom are struggling from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. And that is something which needs to change.  

We are trying to bring about this change, by being vocal about it; and by acting on it. And this is something which people are noticing. People with a Labour background are beginning realising that... ADPD is now the party that more or less shares their own principles; while ‘their own’ party, Labour, clearly doesn’t any more.  

Because let’s be honest: when you look at how Labour has developed, over the last 10- years... it doesn’t take very long to realise that there’s nothing really ‘left’, of ‘The Left’.  

One last question: in that other interview, you were evasive about whether or not you intended you relinquish your candidacy for next year’s MEP elections. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’, you said. Have you reached any final decision, yet?   

The fact that I’m contesting the MEP election is confirmed, and even approved by the executive. So... I’m there! My name is on that list... 

So you’re confirming, from now, that your name will be on the ballot sheet, in June 2024?  

Yes, definitely. 

Do you not see any contradiction, however, between the roles of MEP, and party leader? 

Well... let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Don’t forget that I first have to get elected, before any of that actually becomes an issue. But, in the hypothetical scenario where I DO get elected... no, I don’t really see any contradiction, myself.  

For one thing, the Green Party’s statute (both local and European) allows for the possibility of having a ‘co-chair’: in other words, the party would effectively have two leaders, at the same time. This is, perhaps, something very ‘new’, for Malta.  I don’t think it’s ever happened, before. But it’s doable; and in fact, other Green Parties already do it, as we speak.  

And besides: if, in theory, I do get elected MEP... it would also mean I’d have an ‘extra power’, so to speak: because I’d be able to bring up Malta’s issues in the European Parliament, too. In fact, I think that the experience one gets from being in the European Parliament, can only add value to anyone who aspires to lead a political party into a general election: hopefully, with a chance of success.  

So no: I don’t see see any conflict between the two roles, at all...