Standalone referendum ‘shouldn’t trouble eager supporters’ – PM

‘Postponed council elections should not trouble eager referendum supporters’ – Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister on local councils elections • Video by Ray Attard

A standalone referendum on the abolition of spring hunting and the postponement of local council elections should not trouble eager supporters, according to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

“The abrogative referendum is an independent process and whether it is held with local council elections or not should not be an issue for its supporters,” Muscat told MaltaToday.

“If there is such enthusiasm and desire for a referendum to determine whether hunting should be banned or not, then [supporters] shouldn’t be troubled.”

Critics have described a proposal by the Prime Minister to put off next year’s round of local council elections to 2019 as a strategy intended to dead-leg an abrogative referendum against spring hunting by not linking the plebiscite with local elections, which tend to draw high turnouts.

A standalone referendum is the hunters’ preferred option, should the referendum be held.

Muscat has justified his preference of holding local elections concurrently with those of the European Parliament on the grounds that it would save the country some €2.5 million per round of elections, increase participation and decrease electoral fatigue.

On several occasions the Prime Minister has pronounced himself in favour of “Malta’s right to derogate” from the EU’s ban on spring hunting. He has however denied that the elections postponement had anything to do with the abrogative referendum.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Muscat told MaltaToday when asked whether it was a coincidence that the proposers of the abrogative referendum had planned for it to be held next year to coincide with the scheduled 2015 local elections.

Muscat has been floating the idea of holding the local elections on the same day as the European Parliament elections since May. That was when Labour in government repeated its overwhelming success at the polls which it registered in the March, 2013 general elections.

But in the past days, the government notified the opposition that it intended presenting a Bill to amend the Local Councils Act. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said the government, without consulting anyone, wanted to postpone the local elections.

Busuttil’s speech in parliament appeared “to surprise” Muscat: “I cannot understand why all this fuss now when I placed the issue on the agenda a day after the May EP elections were held. Moreover, the PN has nothing to be scandalised about… they have postponed local council elections on several occasions.”

The Opposition was not the only one irked by this move: Labour backbenchers Marlene Farrugia and Godfrey Farrugia took the government to task for even considering the idea. A more vociferous Godfrey Farrugia said “democracy does not carry a price tag”.

“It doesn’t hold to argue that moving the elections would save money. Democracy doesn’t carry a price tag,” Farrugia told the Church’s radio station RTK.

Farrugia said the government should ensure that every possible democratic tool is strengthened, not weakened. 

Echoing his comments, Marlene Farrugia said local councils are indispensable instruments that should be supported.

“We shouldn’t take an ugly chance and ruin what we have built along the years since the local councils were set up,” she said.