(Alas) Daphne is Right

Posted on January 29, 2008 by

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What follows is a letter that was NOT sent to the Malta Independent on Sunday for a number of reasons. It is a reply to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s article entitled “Settle down and read this, please“.

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It has become a weird habit of politicians to apologise to editors for the space they use up in the letters pages whenever they write in with their contribution. Now I am neither a politician nor am I the apologetic type but I do feel a tinge of guilt that the subject matter of this letter requires more space than is the norm for a letter to the editor which in most circumstances should be short and to the point.

In her article last Sunday, columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia berated the “tiresome lawyer” Claire Bonello for ‘relentlessly whining’ against all that is Nationalist as well as for not declaring her bias towards Alternattiva Demokratika. There is much to be said about the necessity of declaring a bias that is obvious for all to see but that is not why I put fingers to keyboard to contribute to this discussion. What really interests me is the issue of “basic electoral mathematics” so ably brought up by Daphne – the matter of wasted votes.

It is a uniquely magical effect of this country’s electoral laws that give us a situation where – and Claire will surely pardon me for adapting her poster – you “Vote Harry, Get Freddie”. Daphne is right. So right on the issue of these peddling Alternattiva vote-catchers who prey on the arithmetically challenged chatterers of the Sliema Bourgeoisie. Surely they are aware that the votes they crave for their leader will be flushed down the electoral toilet. A vote for Alternattiva is the electoral equivalent of Professor Refalo’s negative marking in the Constitutional law exams for first year law students. You don’t just waste your vote, it’s also less votes for PN and hey presto one more feather in Freddie’s cap.

How funny that I should mention Constitutional law. That very constitution against which the laws of the land should be tested – the kelsenian grundnorm that guarantees that we live in a democratic country and not in a Banana Republic. Daphne is right. The current electoral formula does not allow you to focus on the party you want in power. It does not allow you to say “Hey. I don’t like the nationalists. I not even vote for the MLP when I’m dead lest my vote be counted with that of the living. Then why not vote for AD?”

Why not indeed. It seems that when you think that way you choose to ignore the ominous presence of a potentially disastrous party ready to pounce on Castille. Daphne believes that asking people to vote AD means ignoring the existence of MLP. Something like the child wishing the monster away and hoping the adults will deal with it. Which could be true. Only there is a bit of twisted logic in that too. It may be a step up from basic arithmetic but I am sure Daphne could bear with me as I explain.

You see the problem is that, as the European Parliament elections proved, given the chance 20,000 or so individuals would vote for a different kind of politician. Let me be clear about this. It does not necessarily have to be Alternattiva. My interest is the breaking of the stranglehold of bipartisan politics – and Alternattiva is currently the only plausible alternative I can think of. I see it as a Trojan Horse into the fortified battlements of MLPN. Getting rid of the dichotomy means getting rid of the parochial way of thinking and governing.

So, given the chance people will change voting habits. The bigwigs at MLPN noticed that and last year they dealt the final blow to this possibility. They took away the chance for thousands of voters (even Daphne’s chance) to vote for another party when irked with the two of them. They created the mathematical formula that underlies Daphne’s argument. She is right. Of course she is right. Under the present magical formula concocted by the PN and passed unanimously in parliament, 20,000 votes spread among the 13 districts of the country can be lost. A party garnering 20,000 votes will not get one single seat in parliament. The magic words “proportional representation” have been neutered to an insulting situation where: if, and only if, two parties get elected to parliament under the present system then the seats shall be allocated proportionally to their national vote.

Daphne is right. What she is telling us is this. If you were ever thinking of changing the political spectrum in this country you have been royally screwed. The disincentive first trumpeted to the masses by then PM Fenech Adami – vote AD get Labour – is now here to stay. In one fell sweep, PN got rid of the only party that could seriously challenge its programs with an alternative vision of doing politics. It was one fell sweep that guaranteed the status quo in our political scene. What we have is an alternating chair. So long as Labour remain the band of inept politicians that the PN machinery depict, then PN’s place in government is virtually guaranteed.

Sorry Claire. You cannot go on campaigning without showing the second half of your poster. No “Vote Harry” without “Get Freddy”. I have other plans on my mind. You see Daphne, I too am one of the chatterers. I would love to not have been brutally disenfranchised by the electoral reforms. Like you I am often baffled at the way politicians in this country are ineffective because they live secure to see another day – since electoral scrutiny has turned into a PN vs. MLP farce. Our paths split the day you decided to accept the way MLPN voted to hold your vote to ransom.

I am fully aware of the repercussions of voting AD. I am fully aware of the “wasted vote syndrome” in our elections. Unlike you however I think that the responsibility is not mine to bear but that of MLPN and their electoral reform. Come election day I will exercise my right to vote. I will continue to use my vote to provoke change in Maltese politics. And the day my vote for Harry translates to a vote for Freddie I do not believe I should be the one to do the worrying… I’ll leave that to whoever came up with this wonderful idea that my vote is worthless and worth wasting.

The ball is in their court.
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Posted in: Electoral laws