Each of the three reasons given by the Prime Minister for his government’s plan to postpone local council elections to make them coincide with the 2019 European Parliament elections can easily be shot down.

The first, to save money, is perhaps the most preposterous, for if Joseph Muscat really wants to do this, he could start by downsizing his Cabinet, which is costing the taxpayer €8.5 million a year more.

The second, to improve the turnout, is weak, and the third, to help reduce election fatigue, is worth considering but there are other important measures that can first be taken to do this, such as closing down the two main parties’ television stations.

One TV and Net are major sources of extreme political partisanship and polarisation. However, the two parties will not touch them for fear of eroding their most potent means of keeping the grassroots together. In truth, making council elections coincide with the European Parliament elections makes sense, and the proposal would have probably received wide support had it been made at the right time and in a proper manner.

The move jars because it is being perceived by many as being meant to favour hunters. Justice Minister Owen Bonnici has denied that the intention behind the move is to have a lower turnout at the referendum over the abolition of spring hunting, which was likely to have been held on the same day as local council elections next year.

Most must have simply brushed aside the minister’s denial.

There is another point to consider: is it not very odd that the government chose to make the move just after the lowering of the voting age to 16 for local council elections? Denying 16-year olds their new right to vote at the first scheduled opportunity negates in a most blatant manner all the talk about giving young people the chance to take part in community affairs.

The Nationalist Party has come down hard on the government over the proposal, arguing it undermines the democratic process.

Saving money, election fatigue and turnouts should not stand in the way of holding normal council elections, even if local councils are not exactly being perceived as working well. In fact, some are, but a number of others are not, as shown by the shortcomings in their performance often pinpointed by the auditor general.

A debate appears to be picking up now over a much needed reform of local councils, with one key question being: does Malta need so many? Sixty-eight councils in such a small country is excessive. Other than these, there are then 16 administrative councils.

Local Councils’ Association president Marc Sant argued some time ago that while subsidiarity was a good concept and that people enjoyed the sense of immediacy (presumably in tackling community affairs) that a local council may inspire among them, excessive fragmentation needed to be addressed.

He asked if the time had come to reduce the number of councils and divide the country into regions or areas that would correspond to electoral districts.

Others maintain that councils and their part-time councillors ought to be replaced by a very limited number of regional committees employing full-time administrators.

Before any decision is taken to postpone the council elections, these and other matters would first need to be thrashed out in an effort to put local councils on firmer foundations.

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