12/04/2003 - D-7
On 10th March two days after the referendum when the population approved the island's upcoming membership to the EU on 1st May 2004 by 53.65% Eddie Fenech Adami decided to call the general elections for 12th April, in order to confirm the population's attachment to Europe and the victory won by his political movement, the Nationalist Party (MLP) in the referendum. "The election date was set so that the Maltese decision to join the EU may not be modified. The Maltese choice is clear, it is my duty to apply it" he declared. These general elections will bring the two main political movements on the island into opposition: the Nationalist Party led by the Prime Minister in power for the last five years and Alfred Sant's Labour Party (LP).
The Maltese Political System
Malta is a parliamentary democracy modelled on British lines. The Cabinet (or Council of Ministers), led by the Prime Minister, holds the executive power. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic who then designates the leader of the movement that won the general elections to this post. The Parliament is mono-cameral; the Chamber of Representatives comprises 65 MP's elected for a maximum of five years according to complex election method that the island, as a country, only shares with Ireland in the world (plurinominal election by proportional representation called the single transferable voting system). On the day of the election the voter receives an alphabetical list of candidates from which he chooses those he wishes to vote for in order of preference. Hence he enters a figure 1 in front of the candidate he prefers first then 2, 3, 4, etc. in front of the names of the other candidates on the list. The first sorting operation is the calculation of the electoral quota, ie the minimum number of votes that a candidate must win to be elected. This quota corresponds to the total votes cast divided by the number of seats available (different according to the constituency) and increased by one unit. All candidates who win this number of votes is elected. The remaining votes are then shared out between the candidates who were chosen second.
Parliament elects the President of the Republic for a five year mandate.
The present President is Guido de Marco who was elected in 1999.
At present and for the past forty years only two political parties have been represented in Parliament:
The Nationalist Party (MLP), a Christian Democrat movement in favour of Malta joining the EU, led by the present Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami ;
The Labour Party (LP), a socialist movement against the island's European integration, led by Alfred Sant.
The Election Stakes
Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami has confirmed that he had not decided - before the referendum on the island's membership to the EU on 8th March - to call the general elections. The reaction by the Labour opposition and its "absurd theory" according to which opponents to membership had "in fine" won led him to organise these elections as rapidly as possible. When the official results of the referendum were announced, Alfred Sant did indeed contest the validity of the election claiming that "the 'yes' did not record an absolute majority of those on the electoral role". According to the Labour Party leader 142,000 people voted in favour of joining the EU ie less than half of the 297,000 on the electoral role. "Alfred Sant is holding democracy up to ridicule. As a result the popular vote must be confirmed by general election as quickly as possible", declared the Prime Minister. 12th April is a date that has not been chosen by chance since on 16th April ie four days later the ten candidate countries will sign the EU membership treaty in Athens.
Eddie Fenech Adami asserted that he did not plan to govern if his party (Nationalist Party, MLP) did not win a majority, an important detail since the Ecologist Party, Alternattiva Demokratika (AD), might, according to the opinion polls win enough votes to prevent the island's two main political movements (the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party) from forming a majority. The Prime Minister did however forget to say whether he was talking of an absolute majority or a relative one. The negotiations between the ecologist party and the ruling party have now taken place; Alternattiva Demokratika would be offered the role of spokesperson in the unique Chamber of Parliament by the Nationalist Party if the ruling party wins the election.
During the campaign the ecologists reiterated their support for Malta joining the EU. Their electoral programme focuses on tax reforms. They also suggest the increase of the ceiling below which citizens will not be taxed (at present this lies at 3000 Maltese Pounds annually) that they wish to see increased to 4500 Pounds for single people and 5000 for married couples. Alternattiva Demokratika which is an ecologist movement also suggests the increase of taxation on companies that pollute.
For its part the Nationalist Party is campaigning on the continuation of economic growth and the improvement of the labour market (in Malta, unemployment mainly effects men under 25 years of age: 9,1% of them are unemployed), without forgetting the 81 million Maltese Pounds that the EU will bring to the island if it joins, comprising a substantial amount of aid for the government, enabling it to improve the daily lot of the Maltese. The Prime Minister also mentions regularly that if the next government refuses to sign the membership treaty in Athens on 16th April the island's European integration would be void forever. Indeed if the Labour Party wins the general elections its leader, Alfred Sant will probably not sign the treaty (since the referendum was not restricting, a Labour government may officially ignore the Maltese vote on 8th March). However it would have to organise a new referendum offering the Maltese the choice between a partnership with the EU (giving Malta the status of Associate State, that according to Labour would enable the country to preserve its privileged links with Libya) and total membership.
"For a better future, Maltese first", this is the opposition campaign's slogan in the general elections on 12th April next. The Labour Party is promising to increase by one or two points the GDP's annual growth level (this lay at 4.1% in 2002). Labour who are accusing the present government of only being interested in Malta's membership of the EU, say they are also in favour of lowering taxes and would like education, healthcare and transport to comprise real government priorities. Rather than being focussed on an increase in wealth, the Labour Party's campaign has concentrated on a better social distribution of existing wealth. Finally the movement would like to wipe out the differences - that are still major - in the way children who are born out of wedlock are treated from those who are born to a married couple in a country where 8 out of ten inhabitants are practising Catholics.
According to the latest polls the Nationalist Party would win the general elections with 49% of the vote; the Labour Party for its part would win 23%. However around one quarter of the voters say they still have not decided. Although the Maltese seem to be about to confirm the 8th March vote by saying they are in favour of the outgoing government that supports the island's membership to the EU, voters who would like to see a change in the ruling team, would be obliged to vote for a movement that is against European integration. As in 1998 Europe is at the heart of the Maltese general elections on 12th April next.
Reminder of the general election results on 5th September 1998:
Participation : 95%
Source: Maltese Embassy Paris