A small, but ‘mighty’ party… | Godfrey Farrugia

Partit Demokratiku leader GODFREY FARRUGIA looks forward to May’s European elections with optimism. But can the small party repeat its success at the last general election – where it won two seats – in the absence of the ‘Forza Nazzjonali’ coalition?

Partit Demokratiku leader Godfrey Farrugia
Partit Demokratiku leader Godfrey Farrugia

At a glance, ‘Partit Demokratiku’ seems to suffer from identity issues. It was formed as a political party in its own right, and now has two seats in Parliament… yet those seats were won by candidates (yourself and Marlene Farrugia) who actually contested on the Nationalist Party ticket. Meanwhile, Adrian Delia has announced the end of the ‘Forza Nazzjonali’ coalition. Where does that leave PD now? What does it stand for? Who does it actually represent?

First of all, PD was born in October 2016… not in June 2017. Its founder was Marlene Farrugia; and she was part of a team. What does PD stand for? To me, it stands for what is right, and what is fair. That is how I see it. We are a small party, yes; but a mighty party. And I’ll tell you why. Because being small may have its disadvantages, but there are also advantages. One advantage is that PD is lightweight; it has its own structure, like any other party… but being small, the internal processes are simplified. We can approach issues in a timely way. But more than anything else, we are a very small party that is represented on a national level, in Parliament…

That’s the whole point of my question: are your two seats really PD’s? They were won on the PN ticket…

Yes, I will come to that. But you asked me what we stand for. We stand for justice and fairness. Though small, we are dictated to by the force of reason; by politics of conviction. This is what makes us different from all the rest. Why do I say this? Because our politics in centred on the individual, and the dignity of the person…

Sorry to interrupt again but I fail to see how that makes you any different. The PN says exactly the same thing... in the same words, too. 'Dignity of the person'. Both Adrian Delia and Simon Busuttil told me this in previous interviews...

Yes, but as the saying goes l-ezempju jkaxkar [it's what you practice not what you preach]. My point is that PD is a very viable party in Opposition. From the first time we were elected, we always said that we are going to represent 'the people's seat.' Why do I say this? Because our loyalty is to the public interest, the public good, and the nation. Our loyalty is not like that of the PL and PN... where the party comes first. We are not like that. This is what makes us different. It also makes us useful, both in and outside Parliament. Becuase what the two big parties miss out on - because of their hidden agendas, or whatever - we will state it. there are no red lines with us. If it's right and fair, we will state it. But then again, there are also disadvantages to being small. One is finance. We are very rigid on how the party is funded. It's nothing like how the other parties are financed... and I don't think I need to go into any detail. Another disadvantage is that we don't have the media resources that the other two parties have. We have a political system that is dysfunctional. Media comes into it, too: we are the only EU member state, as far as I am aware, where the major political parties have their own media machines, we also have a public Broadcasting Authority which argues that the two parties' media balance each other out. So they don't care about how the views of a third, fourth or fifth party gets represented. The BA only cares about giving the official slot when the campaign begins. At all other times, there's no balance whatsoever.

OK, but again, this is all a little deja-vu, isn't it? Alternattiva Demokratika has been complaining about the electoral/broadcasting imbalance for 30 years...

That doesn't make it any less of a problem...

...true.

...And it is a problem that we need to fix. This is the crux of the entire matter. One of the recurrent problems we have witnessed throughout various legislations has been [the lack of] meritocracy. And if you really believe in the dignity of the person, you will also believe that every individual should be able to attain his or her fullest potential without any political interference. More than anything else, we have a broken dysfunctional political system, where bipartisan politics and tribalism have completely banished the concept of meritocracy. Let's face it, meritocracy absolutely doesn't exist in Malta. And it is in the interests of both the PN and PL to keep it that way because of alternance of government. One of my own aspirations as PD leader is that at least I will try, as my legacy, to leave a multi-party system at national level. Now let's go back to 2017. Why was the coalition formed? As you know, the current Constitutional set-up does not favour the possibility of ever having a third or fourth party in Parliament. For example: when we tried to have, on the ballot sheet, a 'Forza Nazzjonali' section with both PN and 'Tal-Orangjo' candidates, we found that we could not. The law does not allow it. Coalitions are only recognised after an election, not before. So I had to be part of the blue list but I couldn't even put 'Partit Demokratiku' after my name. Not allowed. Even though we had been recognised as a political party since 2016.

But - to be a little cynical - that could be interpreted as just a desperate measure to get elected. You knew you had no chance of getting elected on your own steam, so you hitched your wagon to the PN...

No. Hang on, let me show you something [fetches a paper from a drawer]. You've never seen this, have you? This is a historical document: the original 'Forza Nazzjonali' coalition agreement signed by Marlene Farrugia and Simon Busuttil. We joined this coalition because there are five principles set down in this document. Good governance. Sustainable economy. Social justice. The environment. Constitutional reform.

And you joined forces with the PN to achieve those aims? Sorry to be blunt, but the PN had 25 years in government to tackle all five of those targets. What credibility could this coalition possibly have, to achieve only that now?

I agree that the Nationalist Party has not credentials to address any of those issues. None at all...

So... why join a coalition with it?

I'll tell you why. Because if we were successfull and did become part of an alternative government, we would have formed the impetus to get the PN to clean up its act. By virtue of being a third political force. That is the strength of the multi-party politics: even a small party can keep its coalition partner in line. More importantly, we would also have ensured that there are the necessary checks and balances to keep all government in line too. Including our own. Having a coalition in power, instead of a single party government, would have provided an additional guarantee. This is, in fact, why I had no problem joining a coalitionm even in view of the PN's past record. We would have been a beacon of hope to that party. Let's face it... we don't come to this with political baggage...

Well, 'baggage' comes in different shapes and sizes. You, for instance, were Health Minister in Labour's 2013 administration. It's not like you weren't part of the system you now want to reform. On her part, Marlene Farrugia has a long and... let's just say 'colourful' history in Maltese politics. With both parties, too...

It's true that I was part of the Labour administration. So what? I joined the labour movements because I firmly believed in the call of 'Malta Taghna Lkoll'. I still believe in it, in fact. So when it comes to our ideology - what we believe in - we have remained constant. We haven't changed. Whether I was part of the labour movement or whether I am now in this party... I am still the same person. My own man, and nothing different. But there is one things we have to remember: any political party is a tool to serve the public interest. It exists so that the common good... the national interest, call it what you will... is safeguarded. That is the only way that the quality of life of the individual, the family, and the community at large can improve. So a political party is a tool... nothing more. But what happened? The labour party is no longer representative of Malta's social soul as it used to be. Forget it. The PL has become pro-business all the way to the other extreme. The Nationalist Party, although still conservative, has not remained where it was either with all its previous ideologies intact. It had its own internal problems too. And this is why I resigned from Labour in 2017 before the election. As party whip, I had tried everything in my power to change things from the inside. Remember that party whip is quite an influential position. I was, so to speak, the 'manager' of the parliamentary group... although, of course, it still falls under the Prime Minister. I was also a Cabinet member: admittedly not part of the executive but I would sit at the table at Cabinet meetings and participate in the discussion. I was also liasion officer between PL and PN. And I was a member of the party's administrative council. I was everywhere. And I tried to exert an influence, but... [shrugs] I didn't manage. Now, I am trying to influence the desirable change that our country needs to fix its broken system... through PD... this is my hope...

Yes, but that takes us back to the original uestion. To be influential, in the way you describe, you actually have to be in Parliament...

I am in Parliament...

Precisely. You were elected there as part of a coalition that no longer exists. So when the next election comes along - unless there is another coalition by then - the entire dynamic will be very different. Do you think you can repeat the success of 2017 as a small party on your own?

We will know shortly, in May of this year.

That's a European election. Not the same thing at all...

There are three and a half years to go before the next general election. We are still i the process of evolving our workings on it. We are now cncentrating on the MEP and local council elections. We are taking things step by step. We are a small party; but we have the driving force, the energy, the optimism, to try and fix the broken system. This is why I said we are the 'people's seat'...

With all due respect, that is not your call to make. 'The people' have to agree to be represented by you before you can claim to represent them. That is, in fact, the whole point of an election. On the basis of the number of votes you actually got in 2017... how can you justify your claim to being 'the people's seat'?

Look at it this way: we succeeded in getting to Parliament. With everything - the entire electoral system - geared up against us. And we did so with the intention to improve the system, to bring about the necessary changes, so that we can at least begin to treat the cause of this chronic disease affecting our country's systems. I'm a doctor, at the end of the day, and this is how I view it. The tribalism infecting our country is a disease. Acute, and chronic. It can be diagnosed and it can be cured. This is what we, as PD, are trying to fix...

Fair enough. Earlier you mentioned MEP elections. Am I right in stating that these elections are crucial for PD? That your performance in an election unfettered by general election concerns reperesents a make-or-break opportunity for your party?

Yes. First of all, the opportunity to be in Brussels means that we would be able to punch above our weight. Obviously, we agree with the principles and values of the European Union: the four freedoms of movement, of people, of goods and services and capital. These, to us, are sacrosanct. Shortly, we will be issuing our manifesto. It's not piublished yet, so right now I can only tell you where I, personally, feel that we ought to be going. I believe that, yes, the economy must be competitive. It must also be ethical. It must recognise the social contract. This is immensely important to us. Also, we need to strengthen our institutions. They must become more accountable, more transparent. Management of migration must be more coherent and effective. And one issue I firmly believe PD could contribute to, at EU level, is climate change. And the environment in general. To me, these are the four issues - on top of the basics: respect for rule of law, good governance, etc - where I see PD making a difference. So, yes, these elections are crucial to us.

Might I ask what your realistic expectations are?

We are always optimistic. What I can say is, we will work to our utmost abilities, all the way until the race ius over. And... yes, I believe that we do have a chance of winning a seat.

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