29/02/2008 - D-7
On 4th February last the Maltese President Eddie Fenech Adami announced the dissolution of Parliament and the organisation of general elections on 8th March. "This election will occur on the 5th Anniversary of the Referendum which opened the way for Malta's accession to the European Union. This was an event that brought hope to the country," declared Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi (Nationalist Party PN).
260 candidates are running for the votes of 315, 217 voters including 5.4% who are voting for the first time. Transport has been provided for the Maltese living abroad so that they can reach the island to fulfil their civic duty.
The Maltese Political System
Malta is a parliamentary democracy. The Cabinet (Council of Ministers), led by the Prime Minister, holds executive power. Parliament is unicameral; the House of Representatives comprises 65 MPs elected within 13 constituencies for five years maximum according to a complicated voting system (a multi-seat list elected by proportional representation otherwise known as the single transferable vote) that the country only shares with two other countries: Ireland and Australia. On Election Day the voter receives an alphabetic list of candidates from which she/he chooses those he/she wishes to vote for by order of preference. Hence he writes the figure 1 in front of the candidate who is his/her first choice, then 2, 3, 4 in front of the other candidates on the list. The first round of counting comprises the calculation of the electoral quota, i.e. the minimum number of votes that a candidate has to win to be elected. This quota matches all of the votes cast divided by the number of seats available (variable according to the constituency) plus one. Any candidate who achieves this number of votes is declared elected. His surplus votes are then distributed between any candidates who were selected as second choice.
Parliament elects the President of the Republic for a five-year term in office – the latter only has a few powers and enjoys a representative role. The present Head of State Eddie Fenech Adami (PN) was elected on 29th March 2004.
Since independence on 21st September 1964 only two political parties have been represented in Parliament: the Nationalist Party (PN), a Christian-Democratic movement led by present Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, and the Labour Party (MLP), a social-democratic movement led by Alfred Sant. Two other parties are running in the elections on 8th March: Democratic Alternative (AD), an ecologist movement, and National Action (AN), a far right populist party created on 9th June 2007 led by Josie Muscat.
The Electoral Campaign
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is focussing his campaign on his government's results over the last five years. "Malta is faring better than it was five years ago. We now have a credible, solid economy," he declared. He boasts its economic results: a public deficit that dropped from 10% of the GDP in 2004 to 1.6% in 2007, a decrease in government debt (76% of the GDP in 2004 and 63% in 2007), a major rise in investments (a record level of direct foreign investments in 2007), one of the lowest inflation rates in the EU (1.4%) and a GDP growth rate of 4.3%, higher than the EU average. The archipelago has an unemployment rate of 4% i.e. one of the lowest in the EU. The Prime Minister maintains that his government has created 20,000 new jobs over the last five years; it has increased social aid for families, lowered taxes and invested 300 million euros in the protection of the environment. "When some have been satisfied with simply criticising we, however, have worked hard," he indicated. On 1st January this year Malta together with Cyprus joined the Economic and Monetary Union and adopted the euro.
The Nationalist Party programme includes 353 proposals including continued reductions in taxes that started in 2005, the abolition of heritage tax on residential properties, new investments with regard to education, healthcare and environment, more support for farmers and fishermen and the creation of thousands of jobs in the next five years. The Prime Minister who confirmed the halt in subsidies to shipyards as requested by the European Union has said that it promised to offer training to shipyard workers if they won. The Nationalist Party wants 85% of pupils to go on to further education. At present 70% of pupils go to university; +30% in 10 years. It hopes to work towards greater transparency and hopes to appoint a special state prosecutor who will have specific powers within the Permanent Committee against corruption. With regard to the island of Gozo the Prime Minister put forward a plan including 21 initiatives; he hopes that priority will be given to providing transport between the two islands and the environment.
Lawrence Gonzi, who admits that some mistakes were committed during his term in office that is now coming to an end – notably with regard to not achieving a balance between development and environment, repeats that the Labour Party is not credible and that it does not hesitate to use lies in its electoral campaign and the only advice it gave to the government during the previous term in office was to devalue the Maltese pound by 10%. The Prime Minister announced that if he is re-elected the government will undergo a serious reshuffle.
Family, young people, the quality of life and the creation of jobs are at the heart of the Labour Party's manifesto. "We want a programme of change that everyone can benefit from," declared Alfred Sant who has adopted the "road of change" travelling around the islands on a bus on the sides of which the words "work, protection and dignity" can be read. He maintains that the economy has stagnated over the last five years, the archipelago has the lowest job creation rate since the 1960's, that the number of jobs has decreased by 1,500 in the manufacturing industry and that the present GDP growth rate of 4.3% is a lie that no one believes. He is promising that if he wins on 8th March his party will create 2,000 jobs in industry and services and 4,000 in new technologies; it will find the means to attract new companies to Malta and to encourage Maltese living abroad to come back home to live. Alfred Sant says he is confident that growth will rise to between 4-6% per year thanks to a 100 development and renovation projects that he is proposing in the area of Grand Port. The Labour Party has promised to reimburse VAT on product or service purchases with regard to the education of children and not to increase water or electricity prices; it is even promising to reduce the present surcharge paid by individuals on water and electricity by half in the week following the general elections.
As far as education is concerned the Labour Party is suggesting the establishment of an additional year between the infants' and primary school (called reception class) to facilitate the education of young Maltese children. This project was received with great enthusiasm by teachers and was challenged by its adversaries who say that education is being used as a bone of contention. "Labour hopes to use children to undertake its experiments," stresses the Prime Minister. The Labour Party is promising to reduce hospital waiting lists by 15% per year; to fight against corruption and to invest in renewable energy sources which are due to represent 5% of energy used by 2010, in comparison with 0.22% at present. Finally it will finance two projects within each town in the archipelago.
As far as Gozo is concerned the Labour Party is promising to promote the island that receives fewer visitors than Malta, as a tourist destination in its own right. It is planning to establish a new subsidised helicopter service to fly to Gozo along with tax incentives to encourage farmers, fishermen and SME's and all others involved in tourism to set up business on the island. The national company, Air Malta, will receive support and the government will help low cost airlines also. Alfred Sant says he wants to increase the number of tourists to 1.6 million per year.
Alfred Sant, who was against his country's entry into the European Union during the referendum on accession in 2003, did not want to say anything about this and chose not to answer journalists who asked him about what he thought of Malta belonging to the European Union. He said that he hoped "to move forwards" but promises to negotiate firmly with Brussels on issues involving agriculture, and shipyards. The Prime Minister is quick to highlight Alfred Sant's euroscepticism and recalls that when Malta entered the EU it immediately had access to a major market of 500 million consumers and European funds have enabled a great number of jobs.
On 29th January last Malta was the third EU member State to have ratified the Lisbon Treaty.
When interviewed how he was going to fund his electoral commitments Alfred Sant maintained that the State may provide funds but he could not guarantee that a new type of tax would not be created. "The Nationalists must not be judged on what they put forward but on what they have not done over the past five years," he repeats.
Democratic Alternative (AD) hopes to win 5% of the vote during the elections on 8th March. The ecologist movement whose slogan is "Your vote can make things change" has established the objective of four seats in the House of Representatives. It defends the idea of a coalition government with one of the two main parties; this proposal was rejected by the Nationalist Party. It is fighting for the organisation of referenda on issues affecting the environment and for a liberalisation of the transport system. It hopes to reduce taxes on SME's from 35% to 30%, a measure that would be funded by increasing taxes on banks.
Lying to the far right of the political scale National Alternative which is campaigning under the banner of "Sovereignty, sobriety and justice," is fighting against immigration and for the defence of the family. The Populist Party wants to reduce government powers, reducing this to four members, in order to deliver it into the hands of the people. It plans for the reduction of MPs to 15 and to elect the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage. It hopes to reduce company tax from 35% to 18% and is accusing the two main parties of having sold Malta's sovereignty to the European Union.
Whilst the Labour Party has dominated its nationalist adversary by 3 to 6 points in the polls for the last few months the gap has now decreased and there is now only a 2 point difference between them. There are many Maltese however who believe rather in the victory of the Labour Party than the nationalists: 48.72%, versus 34.62% according to a poll undertaken by M&E Management. National Alternative is due to beat Democratic Alternative in the urns. However neither of the two parties is due to win a seat in Parliament.
Reminder of the General Elections Results: 12th April 2003 in Malta
Turn out: 96.2%