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Neutrality the price for democracy

Dom Mintoff's visit to the Labour Party's headquarters on the morrow of the media's reporting of the American Ambassador's questioning of Malta's status as a neutral country was, to say the least, diabolically co-incidental.

Yet, it was a sure reminder of what this country had to go through to put our democracy back in line with the minimum democratic requirement of any democratic state: that the government in power enjoys the support of the majority of the electorate. This fundamental principle was ignored for five years by two Labour governments led by Mr Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici respectively following the 1981 elections.

Labour's extreme reluctance to remedy the undemocratic situation was described by Lino Spiteri, who was a minister in the years 1981-1987, at the recent launch of the Maltese edition of President Emeritus Guido de Marco's autobiography.

Mr Spiteri was clear that something had to be done to restore majority rule in Malta and, therefore, to avoid the repetition of the 1981 democratically perverse electoral result. However, he found opposition from such key Cabinet figures as Ġużè Cassar and other leading ministers, including the then Prime Minister, who were all propense to leave "well alone", for Labour, at least, if not for democracy.

Riveting was Mr Spiteri's rendering of the dramatic parliamentary debate on the eve of the 1987 election and which eventually opened the door to the saving of our democracy. He described how he had approached Mr Mintoff, then a backbencher, to see whether there was any chance of the electoral reform being debated at that sitting. Mr Mintoff physically pointed at Dr Mifsud Bonnici as the procrastinating factor to any solution.

It was at that stage, however, when Prof. de Marco, then deputy leader of the Nationalist Party in opposition, with the full knowledge of Eddie Fenech Adami, gave up his parliamentary time to allow Mr Mintoff to make his historic speech, which eventually allowed the "majority voting" reforms to be included in the package-deal amendments to the Constitution and which were adopted by a two-thirds majority of Parliament.

The tit-for-tat for majority rule was that the Constitution adopted the principle of neutrality and of non-alignment, which were so dear to Mr Mintoff. This is how Malta became a neutral state.

So is one being too imaginative to ask whether Mr Mintoff's visit was linked to Ambassador Kmiec's questioning the logic behind our definition of neutrality when today the Cold War is over following the Malta summit of 1989 and which still prohibits Malta Drydocks from repairing any warships belonging to the United States and to the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?

More fundamentally, is the Mintoffian soul of the Labour Party feeling that Joseph Muscat is more prepared than his predecessor to rehabilitate it, albeit at the cost of some revisionist rendering of the Mintoffian era?

The contributions by Dominic Fenech and Reno Calleja respectively, Labour general secretary and Cabinet minister at the time of the electoral perverse result of 1981, both playing the nostalgic political cord of when Labour were still in power, followed by the old power horse himself paying Dr Muscat a timely visit, are all indications that the Mintoffian soul of the Labour Party is definitely on the move.

One wonders what the Santian soul of the ex-MLP feels about the rehabilitation of the forces that brought his government to a far too early end following Mr Mintoff voting with the Nationalist Party to effectively force an early election.

Dr Muscat himself made it a point to have practically half of his shadow Cabinet filled by prominent politicians of the Mintoffian era, 22 years later. Something which cannot be said of Lawrence Gonzi's Cabinet.

So the question of whether our Constitution may or may not be amended to bring up to-date its definition of neutrality must be addressed to Dr Muscat and to his willingness to effect a definite break with the Mintoffian foreign policy that has dominated Labour's policies at least from Independence to date. The wind seems blowing in the other direction.

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