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Malta’s electoral heritage

Mario Schiavone, L’Elezz­jonijiet f’Pajjiżna, 4th Ed. 2013, Pin Publications. 1360 pp.

Being an avowed book lover makes me preserve my books in as pristine a state as possible. A notable exception to this steadfast rule is Michael Schiavone’s series of publications on Malta’s elections.

The pitiful physical state of my three preceding editions of L-Elezzjonijiet f’Pajjiżna evidences the countless times I referred to them in my studies on Malta’s electoral system.

Mercifully, Michael Schiavone has come to my rescue, and to that of so many other electoral buffs, by publishing his fourth edition in a sturdy, hardback binding. The new format is guaranteed to withstand innumerable assaults by yours truly when collecting all the possible electoral data over the past 230 years, even up till the very last of 2013.

In record time, Schiavone managed to amass 24 pages of the electoral campaign of March 9, in addition to another 22 pages on the immediate aftermath. The section comes complete with the new PL Cabinet and the PN’s new leadership. Indeed a veritable feat, considering that his electoral tale had started 1,066 pages earlier.

[Schiavone] serves democracy and his consummate journalistic talent by making us all more electorally savvy

The true protagonist of Schiavone’s magnus opus is undoubtedly the proportional repre­sentation through the single transferable vote (PRSTV).

That most mathematical of electoral systems was, and remains, the electoral medium through which the Maltese and the Gozitans have expressed their electoral preferences since 1921.

The PRSTV makes its appearance as early as page 52, when the Assemblea Nazzionale debated draft proposals for Malta’s first self-government constitution of 1921.

The system was initially surprisingly unpopular with the Maltese, and it was left to the British to graft it on a very sceptical Maltese political class, ostensibly opposing it as too complex for a largely illiterate electorate.

Whether because the Maltese and the Gozitans possessed innate political instinct or because Maltese politicians had exaggerated in their diffidence of British stratagems to divide and rule, the system worked from the very beginning. The PRSTV elected colonial, unrepresentative Councils of Government and representative Legislative Assemblies under our three, colonial, self-government constitutions. It finally crowned its career by electing all 11 legislatures of independent and sovereign Malta.

The inevitable voting statistics are all in the book, in their multifarious shapes and sizes, horizontal and vertical, with each computing the preference votes of all candidates in every district they chose to contest. These are also put in their political and historical context, depicting the political atmosphere breathed when voters deposited their polling sheet.

Schiavone leaves no electoral permutation unturned. He includes such fine details as the number of counts each district had in each of the elections since 1921.

Lists are the order of the day: speakers of the house, prime ministers, ministers, cabinets, elections contested by each candidate, MPs returned for more than 25 years and the respective performances of all party leaders.

Intriguingly, to whet the appetite of journalists, professors, students, politicians and so forth, Schiavone provides the coup de grace by introducing an Appendix on electoral curiosities. One such titbit should encourage candidates of Alternativa Demokratika (AD) not to throw in the towel; it is revealed to us that there were candidates who contested as many as 10 elections unsuccessfully.

From1987 the PRSTV is no longer alone in determining the final outcome of elections. Important constitutional amendments correcting serious district gerrymandering were introduced to ensure the party winning the absolute majority of the first preferences ending with the absolute majority of the seats.

The PRSTV therefore, on its own, stopped guaranteeing a proportional and fair distribution of the natural wastage of votes, thereby creating perverse results in 1981, 1987, 1996, 2008 and in 2013.

Instead of reforming the PRSTV, the Nationalist and Labour parties seem happy to resort to complicated corrective mechanisms. Many read this as a conspiracy against the emergence of a third party in parliament, which may explain why electoral reform has slid lower and lower on the priority list.

However, Schiavone cannot be blamed for this sad situation. He serves democracy and his consummate journalistic talent by making us all more electorally savvy.

For this, his book must undoubtedly deserve our first preference vote.

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