[WATCH] Gonzi admits divorce has been 'positive experience' eight years after voting against

The former Prime Minister says divorce would have been introduced anyway and that in hindsight, he should have read the sign of the times better back in 2011

The pro-divorce movement which included former PN MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando (seated left), then divorce campaigner Deborah Schembri and Labour MP Evarist Bartolo
The pro-divorce movement which included former PN MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando (seated left), then divorce campaigner Deborah Schembri and Labour MP Evarist Bartolo

The introduction of divorce in Malta was inevitable and has “on balance” been a positive experience for Malta, former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has admitted.

Gonzi was speaking during an interview with former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond for the first of a three-part series on the rise of Malta being broadcast on RT.

“I think it would have happened in any case,” Gonzi said about the introduction of divorce.

“Social media has opened up countries, including Malta, to the rest of the world. So, anybody, especially the younger generation, is following closely what is happening out there, and that has become the benchmark for quality of life, for our values, for our way of life.”

He said the “European Union experience [had] possibly encouraged all of this”.

“It gave a context. It encouraged people to speak out, to move out of the conservative, traditional module we had for a long number of years,” Gonzi said.

READ MORE: Gonzi to reconfirm 'no' vote in parliament on divorce

“Looking back, I should have seen the sign of the times more clearly. Even my party should have seen the sign of the times more clearly. We did not and perhaps it’s one of the failures, but you know, the benefit of hindsight is a fairytale.”

Back in 2011, the PN headed by Gonzi had taken a decision to oppose the introduction of divorce after one of its own MPs, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, put forward a private member's bill. Gonzi had then called for a consultative referendum on divorce, which delivered a majority in favour.

Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi being interviewed by Alex Salmond on RT
Former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi being interviewed by Alex Salmond on RT

However, when the divorce bill came before parliament, Gonzi was one of several government MPs to vote against the introduction of divorce, despite the referendum result. Divorce became law in October 2011.

Gonzi revisited the divorce debate in his interview with Salmond and also spoke about the challenge for conservative parties to adapt to the fast pace of social change.

“For those who have adopted policies that were conservative in the past, based on values that we believed in very strongly, the adjustment didn’t happen fast enough,” he admitted.

Gonzi went on to say that his major opposition to divorce was the fact that the issue had come up half-way through the legislature without having been on any of the two parties’ agenda. “There was one MP who decided to bring it to the fore and this is what caused the big debate.”

Irrespective of how it happened, he said that “on balance”, divorce had been a positive experience for Malta.

“Divorce would have been introduced at some point in time. It had to happen. It happened in the way it did and our society had to adjust to it and it did so in a manner which I think is quite good.”

Despite this belief, he said divorce had not been without its impacts, including social impacts. He said that the level of changes at family level were today “totally different” from what they were 10 years ago.

“We are living in an era where change is happening so fast and there’s no way we can stop it, we just have to adapt very quickly,” he said.

Gonzi was introduced in the show as the architect of Malta's economic success, having piloted the island in its first years as an EU member state and subsequently in adopting the euro after painful reforms.

The former prime minister also reminisced about the global financial crisis that started to unfold in 2008 and the conflict in Libya that happened in 2011.

READ MORE: MaltaToday's coverage of the divorce referendum

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