Wednesday, May 31, 2017

On why I will vote for the national force and cross vote

On Saturday I will be giving my first preference to the Democratic Party which will be contesting on the PN list.  I will give my second preference to AD and than cross vote to choose the best candidates from both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party contesting my district. 

I declare this so that I will be under extra scrutiny by those judging my actions now and in the future.  I have never posed as a neutral observer.  Not being partisan does not absolve us from  making hard choices for which we should all be held accountable.  Moreover I have always declared my vote in every election since 1996. I will not refrain from doing the same now. 

As a former AD official and green voter in all elections except 1996 when I voted for the Labour Party, this decision was a very difficult one to make and comes with healthy dose of skepticism. 

Sure enough my declared vote does not signify any allegiance towards the PN or the PD.  Voting is an act of private judgement based on reflection.  In a modern democracy a vote is not a religious act of faith or an oath of eternal loyalty but a conditional choice made in the realm of the possible.  Neither is the vote an identity totem, a badge one wears to preserve purity of soul. 

Needless to say I will be the first to denounce any episode of bad governance or any environmentally unsound project proposed by the PN if it is elected back to power.  Nobody will be in a position to ask me “fejn kont?” if the PN returns to its old ways.  I will be there as I was when the Zonqor project was proposed by Muscat and as I was when past PN governments disregarded environmental protection as was the case with the ODZ extension in 2006. 

I remain what I am; a liberal left wing person who strongly believes in good governance, civil liberties, social justice and the protection of the environment.  Once again my vote will be based on personal moral conviction as it was when I voted AD and Labour in the past.

In this context my vote is a choice based on these 5  considerations all based on facts namely: 

1. The Prime Minister chose to retain Keith Schembri as chief of staff and Konrad Mizzi as Minister in a reshuffle last year.  It is not acceptable to have people in key position of power setting up companies in secretive offshore locations.  The fact that their companies were opened just after Labour was elected and that documentation from ICIJ leaks suggests that they had the intention of deposit monies from these companies in bank accounts was already damning enough. 

2. Over the past year we have witnessed a complete institutional paralysis with a failure to commence a full police investigation following both Swiss Leaks and the Panama Papers.  This was the greatest failure, for it exposed a situation of “one law for them, one law for us”. 

3. It was the PM who called an election a year ahead of time instead of waiting for the conclusion of the egrant inquiry and in the absence of a full investigation of all those involved in the Panama Papers. This turned the election in to a referendum on Muscat’s behavior over the past year.  This does not mean that I believe egrant allegations at face value.  But in such a peculiar election imposed on us by Joseph Muscat a year ahead of time, I have no choice but to vote against his unbecoming behavior in office. 

4. I am increasingly alarmed by Muscat’s strongman politics, the way he centralised power in his hands and his bullish approach to politics.  His hold on power is becoming over bearing.  The Labour party has been shaped in his personal image. On various counts Muscat does not come across as a liberal democrat who believes in the separation of powers. His veiled threats against the 'establishment' disguise a contempt for checks and balances.  Even his party has been weakened in its role as a counter weight to the power in Castille.  He has surely not invented the wheel but he has surely made things worse. His performance in the campaign debates where he assumed the role of a school yard bully, has further alienated me from his style of governing.

5. In the planning sector we have witnessed an onslaught of policies which have moved the goalposts for  developers and other lobbies.  While the PN's record in office especially before 2008 was bad enough, we have witnessed a deterioration on all fronts; with ODZ land in Zonqor offered on a silver plate to Sadeen, high rises being approved in Sliema and Mriehel and policies which have seen new buildings mushrooming in our countryside and old townhouses and gardens demolished to make way for more apartment blocks.

So is my choice to vote for the national force simply a vote against Labour?

Absolutely not.  Neither does it mean that I am shooting down the various positive reforms introduced by the Labour government especially in the civil liberties, education and social policy.  I have deep respect for Ministers like Evarist Bartolo, George Vella and Helena Dalli who despite their short comings have made Malta a better place to live in.   

Honestly I also feel that the PN needed more time in opposition to renew itself on the opposition benches.  In this sense I hope the electorate will strengthen Busuttil with a new and more dynamic front bench.  I hope to see candidates like Mark Anthony Sammut, Alessia Psaila Zammit, Charlot Cassar, Ryan Callus, Alex Mangion, Albert Buttigieg and others, elected in the next parliament.  National Force voters have the added task of renewing the PN by separating the wheat from the chaff by electing a fresh crop of new MPs untainted by past sins.

While I do not identify with the Nationalist Party and some of its proposals especially those related to tax cuts (as I believe that proportional taxation is a pillar of a fair economy), I cannot but note a fundamental difference between the two main parties; a more continental approach to politics on the part of the PN and slavish adulation of the leader in the Muscat camp.

Under Busuttil whom I have seen growing in stature during the campaign, the PN is open to coalition building, not as a feudal bond between a supreme leader and a mixed bunch of deserters from the other camp,, as was the case with Muscat’s movement, but as an alliance between parties, movements and individuals who have not renounced their political autonomy.   

Rather than creating instability this goes some way in the direction of eroding the winner takes all mentality. Stability does not come from slavish loyalty towards an all powerful leader but through political compromise between movements and parties.  This is what happens in a modern liberal democracy. That is my European dream for Malta.

The Democratic Party

And that is why I will be giving my first preference to the Democratic Party.  Does that turn me in to ‘democrat’? Probably not.  While the PD proposes sound environmental policies, I am too liberal and left wing to fit in a centrist party led by people who speak of a defense of life from conception-a view which I respect but do not agree with.   Moreover the PD is too personalised around the figure of Marlene Farrugia whom I admire for her courage and popular touch, but who is too self centered-something which contrasts with my predilection for more sober politicians.

Yet I would like to lend  my support to an experiment in Maltese politics which if successful will enrich our democracy.  My vote for the PD is more an expression of support for the coalition formula than an ideological one. So I urge other pluralists and non-tribalists in the national force to vote for the PD’s candidates, especially those who hail from a green and liberal background, like Front Harsien ODZ activist Monique Agius and Timothy Alden who will be standing on my district.

In this way my vote will still be counted when it comes to choosing which party will be elected in government while it will also serve to inject some much needed pluralism in the system. 

I also endorse most of the PN/PD proposals on good governance and land use.  Surely these do not go far enough but  they do represent a starting point for reforming the political system. A strong vote for the PD is important to ensure that the good governance pledge is enacted if the PN wins the election.

So have I renounced my past support for the Green Party?

Not at all because I always and still identify with green politics.  On this occasion I had respectfully urged the Greens to work for a constructive agreement with the PN.   This did not happen for various reasons on which it would be futile to dwell upon at this juncture.  The fact that AD wanted this agreement to take place speaks volumes about what is at stake in this particular election.  Since I believe that AD does have a big contribution to make to Maltese democracy, I will give it my second preference to Mario Mallia, a person I highly respect for his firm commitment for social justice and inclusion.  

I strongly urge voters to use their full power given by our electoral law and cross vote to ensure that the best candidates from all parties are elected in parliament. It is a lie that cross voting invalidates your vote. It only makes you more powerful as you can have a say on candidates elected by rival parties. So after choosing which party you want in government with your first preference, do use other preferences to reward Labour and AD candidates who can contribute positively to Maltese democracy. Had I lived in the district contested by Konrad Mizzi I would surely have continued my vote on other more honest PL candidates to help Labour get rid of him once and for all. 

Will the country will vote for change?

The PN starts as the underdog in these elections and polls indicate that there is a strong chance that Muscat will win the election possibly with a considerable margin.  But even if that is the case (and in politics nothing is cast in stone especially because of the sizeable chunk of "undecided" voters) the size of his majority will have a great bearing on the future of our democracy.  If Muscat wins by a landslide, this election will simply vindicate his lack of action on Panama.  Clipping his wings by denying him of a super majority also goes a long way in restoring a sense of normality in the country.  Before voting just imagine the prospect of Malta waking up to a repeat of the 2013 electoral result after all that has happened in the past months.  If you cringe at the thought of 'business as usual' under Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri you have no choice but to put a peg on your nose and vote for the National Force. But you can also help cleaning maltese politics by using the STV system to the full.

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