PL deputy leader and PN secretary general agree on need for electoral reform

'I believe the government would be doing the electorate a disservice if it does not bring the issue of how to rectify erroneous electoral results before the Constitutional Court' - PL Deputy Leader Toni Abela

PL deputy leader Toni Abela
PL deputy leader Toni Abela

The deputy leader of the Labour Party Toni Abela has explained the reasoning behind the Labour party’s plans to request the Constitutional court overturn a recent court judgment which awarded the PN two additional seats in Parliament due to proven errors in the vote counting process.

Speaking on Reporter, Abela said “we think it is important that this issue is dealt with by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional court. I believe the government will be doing the electorate a disservice if this issue is not brought before the Constitutional court, if the judgment is not endorsed by that court to provide a point of reference for future generations.”

The latest edition of Reporter dealt with the contentious ruling by the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional jurisdiction, in which the PN was awarded two extra seats in parliament to set-off vote-counting errors that would have seen one PN candidate elected in each of the eighth and thirteenth electoral districts instead of the PL candidates elected from those districts by the slimmest of majorities.

The PN’s objections, explained

Nationalist Party Secretary General Chris Said explained his party’s objections to the results from these two districts to host Saviour Balzan.

Said claimed that on the eighth district,  a batch of fifty votes were mislabelled as belonging to another candidate, which resulted in PL’s Edward Scicluna being elected on the strength of only eight more votes than PN candidate Claudette Buttigieg. “This was hard to spot, as the fifty votes were labelled as belonging to Michael Axiaq, and this could not be seen from behind the Perspex.”

On the thirteenth district, Said continued, ten votes went missing and this was noted during the counting process. “Justyne Caruana was elected by nine votes more than PN candidate Frederick Azzopardi.”

Said said he hoped this was not a delaying tactic that would prolong the case beyond the current legislature, however Abela countered saying that the court was well aware of the urgency. “We are forgetting that the mistake reflects the shortcomings of the PN, as the Electoral Commission was constituted under a PN government and the election took place on their watch. Whoever was responsible for the elections should also shoulder responsibility for the errors.”

“You organised the elections! You were negligent!” taunted the PL deputy leader.

Asked what the point behind the PN case was, Said acknowledged that the decision will not change who is in government but at least would do justice to the voters’ wishes.

Is it time for electoral reform?

Balzan steered the discussion to deal with the issue of proportional representation and the current system. “Is it time to reform the electoral process?”, he asked. He pointed out the fact that in the last general election, Alternattiva Demokratika obtained around five thousand votes across the country and yet did not succeed to have a single candidate elected.

According to Said, this would require a complete overhaul of the electoral system. Acknowledging that at the moment candidates require around four thousand votes in a single district to be elected, Said pointed out that over the years several constitutional amendments have improved proportional representation.

Abela observed that it is not uncommon for Western democratic elections to give anomalous results explaining, by way of example, that Al Gore had some 300,000 more votes than Bush, but still lost the US presidential election. “I am amazed how the PN is suddenly so eager to uphold the will of the people... but when the Galdes report [on party financing, which suggested a national threshold of first count votes  for a party to qualify for financial aid from the State] suggested the threshold to help small political parties, who came out against it? The PN.”

“Are you being serious?” Said retorted, animatedly. “You represent a party which spent five and a half years governing against the will of the people,” he said, referring to the constitutional crisis following 1981 general elections where the PN obtained an absolute majority of votes, but managed only 31 seats in parliament to the Labour Party's 34. 

Both guests agreed on the need for Constitutional reform, however. Said commented that reforms should not only be made in the electoral system, but also in the Constitution. Abela added that the PL manifesto was to reform the Constitution, not only with respect to elections, but also to address other areas that need updating. “Maltese society is ultra pluralistic and a constitution should not only represent the two major parties, but society as a whole.”

Reporter, hosted by Saviour Balzan, airs every Monday at 20:40 on TVM2, with a repeat at 21:55 on TVM.

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