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Updated - Busuttil warns government is undermining democracy - council elections set to be postponed to 2019

Updated - Adds government reaction - Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said this evening that recent government actions, including moves to unilaterally postpone local council elections to 2019 undermined democracy and smacked of a dictatorship.

Speaking in Parliament, he said that while political controversy was normal, the controversies of the past few days were not normal in a democracy, and things appeared to be getting worse with indications that the government wanted to unilaterally strike off local council elections for several years.

Over the past days, Dr Busuttil said, the government had gone beyond the principles of true democracy and freedom. It had hidden information and insulted the opposition in a manner that was unacceptable, showing it would not tolerate criticism.

SAI MIZZI CASE

In the Sai Mizzi case, the government had hidden her contract for months. Then the prime minister said she was paid €3,700 monthly, when it resulted from the contract that was eventually published that she was paid twice as much per month, along with a packet which in total reached €13,000 a month, something which Dr Muscat had previously denied in Parliament.

The minister’s wife had ‘lied’ but what was even worse was that the prime minister himself had lied. This was unacceptable in a democracy, Dr Busuttil said.

Forty years ago, in the Watergate scandal, President Nixon resigned for lying. In Malta, the prime minister lied, and did not assume responsibility.
He actually insulted the opposition and tried to ridicule it for saying the truth.

INTOLERANCE

The government also showed itself to be intolerant to criticism. Anyone who criticised the government was described as negative. But what was negative was to lie and to insult those who criticised you. Intolerance to criticism showed that one would have lost the argument.

In the controversy over the sale of a stake in Enemalta the government also showed a serious lack of transparency. Talks were held in secret and agreements were signed behind closed doors. How could parliament in a normal democracy exercise its function of monitoring the government if it was not given the information to do so?

PARTY FUNDING

Turning to party funding, Dr Busuttil said it needed to be ensured that the political parties could function efficiently without becoming dependant on big donations which then imposed obligations on them. It was better to have state funding then the dealings of secret donations.

Some may say that the PN had made a U-turn on this issue, but in this case, the PL had changed its position too, having previously suggested state funding itself.

The PL had now rejected the call for state funding, but it had given an advantage to itself by benefiting from state property it gave itself, while other political parties were having limits imposed on donations. This was an uneven playing field.

WENZU MINTOFF’S APPOINTMENT

Turning to Wenzu Mintoff's appointment as a judge, Dr Busuttil said he would not criticise the person, but in the past no one was was appointed to the Bench straight from the controversial political core or the political media. The appointment of a person deeply involved in political manoeuvres had come days after the government had criticised the institution of the Ombudsman and after the take-over of other institutions such as the police and the armed forces.

Dr Busuttil said two wrongs did not make a right, and the prime minister could not argue that he was doing when the former government did before it, once he had criticised that action and promised change. Even if the former government made mistakes and paid for them, was what was wrong yesterday right today?

LOCAL COUNCIL ELECTIONS

This week the government had also given notice of a Bill to amend the Local Councils Act, but no details were given. However it was being indicated that the government would cancel the elections for five years.

Dr Busuttil said that whenever anything related to elections was changed in the past, the way forward was agreed by both sides.

In May the prime minister had said he wanted to remove the local elections because they were a waste of money.

The elections, Dr Busuttil said, were not a waste of money. The elections were the most basic tool in a democracy. How could the prime minister decide to remove them?

Even with a big majority, the government could not strike off the elections. Democracy demanded that those elected for four years could not simply extend their term for seven, eight or nine years.

Recently the government decided that those aged 16 would be able to vote, but then it was removing the elections, and these people would be 20 or 21 years old before they voted.

This, Dr Busuttil said, was not an ordinary controversy but an issue at the heart of democracy. The government was removing the people's right to elect their representatives on the councils. By so doing the government would also be ensuring Labour kept its majority in the councils. This was akin to dictatorships where elections were held at the government's convenience.

All these cases, Dr Busuttil said, were not ordinary controversies and he was therefore calling on the government to respect the basic elements of democracy.

He also appealed to the people to objectively consider what he had said. Democracy needed to be strengthened, Dr Busuttil said.

Before his address Dr Busuttil expressed his regret over the crash of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over Ukraine this afternoon. On his suggestion, the House observed a minute's silence in mourning for the victims.

GOVERNMENT REACTION

In a reaction the government said the Opposition leader had been 'full of negativity' which saying he did not want to be criticised as being negative.

The role of the Opposition leader was a public one, and he too was subject to criticism, the government said.  

It said Dr Busuttil had been destructive and personal, even twisting facts to claim that the prime minister had not said the truth. Such speeches lowered political standards. Successive electoral results had shown that the people did not support whoever sought to destroy what was doing well.

The only way how the leader of the opposition managed to be positive was when he said nothing, the government said.

It said it would stay focused on its priorities for families and businesses by creating jobs, reducing the cost of living, including the utility tariffs and growing the economy. The people could feel the difference from the past and could see that the Opposition leader was cut off from reality. 

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