Additional seats in parliament: ‘Constitutional Court must decide case’

"The allocation of additional seats in parliament should be decided by the Constitutional Court," Alternattiva Demokratika secretary general Ralph Cassar

The allocation of additional seats in parliament should be decided by the Constitutional Court, Alternattiva Demokratika secretary general Ralph Cassar has told MaltaToday.

“The issue of additional seats, or not, for the Nationalist Party is an extremely complicated and highly technical case. That is why the case should be decided once and for all by the highest court, which in our system is the Constitutional Court,” Cassar said, when contacted for a comment. 

“Despite the attempts of the PN to depict it as straightforward and simple, or Labour’s [Glenn] Bedingfield to attribute ulterior motives to the courts, the issue of additional seats for the PN is an extremely complicated and highly technical one,” Cassar said.

He was referring to a blog by the OPM aide who suggested that the judge had allowed her political sympathies to cloud her judgement. While the Prime Minister said Bedingfield’s comments were “uncalled for”, Joseph Muscat’s consultant insisted that he respected the court’s decision and had simply stated a fact when he recalled that Schembri Orland had contested the 1992 election on the PN ticket.

The PN this week was awarded by Ms Justice Schembri Orland two additional seats in parliament. Presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, Justice Lorraine Schembri Orland upheld the PN’s arguments in its case contesting the result of the last election. 

As a result, the court said, the PN should be given two additional seats.

However, the government has said that it disagrees with the court’s decision because of “Constitutional implications” and will be filing an appeal. The Labour Party will also be filing an appeal. 

Although the Electoral Commission has yet to decide its course of action, informed sources told Mal-taToday that the commission is set to appeal.

Questions have also been raised as to whether the First Hall of the Civil Court, in its constitutional jurisdiction, could have ordered the award of two additional seats. Sources have argued that such a decision falls under the remit of the Constitutional Court.

Attempts by MaltaToday to get comments from four constitutional experts proved to be futile. While one expert said he wished not to comment, so as not to prejudice the appeal, the three others said they did not have time to study the judgement well.

Cassar argued that the electoral law already catered for contesting election results. 

“First of all there is the possibility of asking for a recount at each of the counting stages of the process – something which the armies of PN, and PL, officials who monitor the Electoral Commission’s counting staff could have easily done. Secondly the law allows a possibility of an appeal in court of the election results within three days of their official publication. This is something which the PN actually did, and lost,” Cassar said.

“It doesn’t make sense to prolong the contestation of election results and the three-day timeframe is more than enough.”

Last year, the Constitutional Court annulled a previous decision by the First Hall of the Civil Court, when the court had ruled in favour of the PN and the commission was ordered to award two additional seats. Labour had then won the case when it argued that it should have been included as a party to the original case.

The case was sent back to the First Hall to be heard again.

The First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction then declared that “shortcomings in the process” in the 8th and 13th districts were in breach of the European Convention.

The court has now found that PN MP Claudette Buttigieg had been deprived of her right to be elected by quota, after a batch of 50 votes were mistakenly found in the pigeon hole of another PN candidate. 

“Some PN candidates are bandying figures about, of how the PN deserves more seats – when in fact the correction factor which is used to ‘correct’ the result and bring up the number of seats in Parliament to 69 instead of 65 – would have been completely different,” the AD secretary general said.

“In fact, the PN had already been given these extra seats. The irony of this is that all this hullabaloo is being raised because of a mistake in the counting of 50 votes. They want two extra seats for 50 votes and speak about proportionality and democracy. At the same time, they obviously ignore AD’s 5,500 votes in the 2013 general election,” he said.

AD did not elect a candidate in the election.

In 2007, amendments to the law established that the winning margin in an election was to be reflected in the margin of seats obtained. If the winning party obtains a majority of 10,000 votes but only a majority of one seat, additional seats are added to reflect the winning margin. This is also done vice versa when the winning margin is of 3,000 votes however the margin in the seats is much more than the margin of votes. Here seats are added to the opposition party so as to reflect the margin of defeat.