The Nationalist Party adopted a cautious tone in response to the government’s proposed parliamentary ‘gender quotas’ as smaller parties came out swinging against the plans.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat unveiled a consultation document on Tuesday aimed at increasing female participation in politics by adding up to 12 additional reserved seats to Parliament, among other measures.

The new mechanism will be triggered if one gender obtains less than 40% of available seats, and will see additional candidates from the “under-represented sex” ‒ currently women ‒ taking up extra seats split equally between the government and Opposition.

Read: Malta has a problem with women in politics

Asked for its position on the proposals, a PN spokesman said the party welcomed measures to boost women’s participation but had not yet formulated its internal policy on the government’s document.

The PN is deeply concerned by the major declines Malta has suffered

“The PN is deeply concerned by the major declines Malta has suffered in international equality rankings and believes women must play an integral part in society, not only because it is their right but because it is in society’s interest to make full use of all its resources,” the spokesman said.

“The party is currently scrutinising the document it received yesterday to add value to this discussion in favour of greater women’s participation.”

Mark Anthony Sammut, the party’s executive president, went a step further, arguing that female and male candidates enjoyed a roughly equal probability of being elected, and that the problem was not voter prejudice but a lack of female candidates.

“Engineering the results of democratic representation is a dangerous slope we should avoid, especially since no other attempts at increasing female candidature – which is the root cause of the problem – have yet been made,” he wrote on Facebook.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party (PD) adopted a more critical tone, lambasting the proposals as “the unfair and unequal imposition of gender quotas on our democracy through brute force, all in the name of extra votes”.

“Empowerment of women must not be a cosmetic affair. Instead, this proposal ignores any attempt to understand voter behaviour or social patterns or norms,” a spokesman told the Times of Malta.

“Half of the electorate is composed of women and the government is being condescending by telling them that they have been voting the wrong way, and that their voting behaviour requires a constitutional amendment.”

PD said that the proposal was an admission that the government had failed to meaningfully address the challenges faced by women and that women should be allowed to achieve success “without the need for handouts”.

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Carmel Cacopardo also criticised the plans, which he said were a half-baked solution to a problem that required a complete overhaul of the electoral system.

He said the government’s proposals would be worthless if a third party were elected to Parliament and called for an electoral system built around gender-balanced party lists.  

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