A letter to Olga
(with apologies to Vaclav Havel)
Dear Sinjura Olga,
I am taking the liberty of writing to you even though I have never had the pleasure of meeting you personally.
A few days ago, your grandson, Lou Bondì, asked Alfred Sant how he could go so far as to interpret your failure to vote in Saturday's referendum as a no vote when you are 93 and bedridden. To this, Dr Sant replied cynically: "We welcome you Sinjura Olga to the band. Come and join us. What's wrong with that?"
There is indeed a great deal which is wrong in that. It shows a very undemocratic approach towards those who were entitled to vote but could not do so because of personal circumstances. Then there were those who of their own free will chose not to vote. Does it make any sense for Dr Sant to include these with those who voted no? It does not, but Dr Sant sticks to his argument nonetheless.
Nor can it be said that there was a massive response to the party's call for people to abstain. Yes I know that party supporters were given a preference - to vote no, or to invalidate their vote or abstain. But, clearly, not even the party's supporters thought that abstaining was a good idea.
In fact, we had the highest turnout for a referendum ever - 92 per cent. It is most absurd and undemocratic then to add to the no vote the bedridden, those who were disqualified by law to vote since the publication of the electoral register, those who were in hospital and could not be taken to polling stations, those who happened to be abroad and could not fly to Malta to vote on that day and no fewer than 1,200 who had died since the publication of the register.
Dear Sinjura Olga, I doubt whether in your 93 years you have ever experienced such an insensitive approach as that displayed by the Labour leader when he publicly asked you "to join the band".
Maybe Dr Sant was thinking of the referendum as an extension of carnival. But a referendum is certainly no carnival, it is a direct way for the people to express themselves on a particular issue, a most democratic tool to gauge public opinion - the same tool the EU acceding countries themselves are using before the signing of the treaty in Athens.
In Malta itself, the referendum is recognised in terms of both the Constitution and the Referenda Act.
In terms of the Act, "persons entitled to vote in a referendum will be called upon to declare whether they approve proposals set out in a resolution passed for that purpose by the House of Representatives, and published in the Gazette".
In terms of the law, "every referendum will be common, equal, secret and free. The questions to be put to those entitled to vote shall be so framed that they can be answered with either yes or no".
This is what the people did last Saturday. By an absolute majority of 19,000, the people approved a resolution passed by parliament that Malta joins the EU on May 1 next year.
The way the people are asked to approve the proposal is regulated by law, not by a leader of a party, no matter how important the party is. This is democracy in practice.
A vote is not a mere scrap of paper, still less is it a mathematical exercise manipulated in a way that suits the party leader's political interests. The Labour leader is showing utmost disrespect to the will of the people, as freely expressed in a referendum.
In doing so, he and his party are also showing disrespect to the country's democratic credentials at a time when the eyes of the world are on the island. On April 12, we will be voting not only for the party of our choice but, also, to defend the people's will.
Dear Sinjura Olga, Vaclav Havel wrote some of his finest letters to his wife Olga from prison, when he was fighting for freedom and for the democratic rights of his people. I am writing to you through a free press in a free country. We do not want this freedom to be in any way eroded.
The Labour leader has no right to ignore the people's will, as expressed in a referendum that was "common, equal, secret and free". It is most ironic that Labour presented as a model for Malta "Svizzera fil-Mediterran" when Switzerland so often resorts to holding referenda to gauge the people's will.
Dear Sinjura Olga, please do accept my sincere apologies for writing at some length. But I felt the need to show my solidarity with you at a time when your inability to vote was so callously manipulated by a party leader for his own political ends.