There will be blood

No. I am not promising you violence. It’s just the title of a movie I went to watch after work. While you guys were busy boosting this mother of all blogships beyond the 4000 a day barrier (thank you also to Maltatoday and to Daphne for the controversy that seems to have sold – sorry but moderation will not allow more of that) I was watching a magnificent film on all counts. Highly recommendable.

Now for the summary from my part of what happened in the last 7 hours. I cannot possibly comment on all the threads that are going on (and as an aside I am immensely glad that Le Jacobin is back on the scene – another critic of J’accuse who we never see enough of) but here are a few that caught my attention:

1. Cora asks more about coalitions (on Nose Pegs):

It is unconstructive to talk about a smaller party’s representation of its voters in parliament without bringing the larger parties into the equation. I’d even go a step further and say that it’s misleading to do so – to the smaller parties’ potential voters, at least, if not to the parties themselves.

A manifesto is a wish list. It can only be implemented if the party behind it governs alone. For a smaller party, this is not possible. The smaller parties themselves admit this.

To govern in a coalition, a small party will have to compromise on pre-election promises. That is an inevitable part of negotiating with a coalition partner. These potential compromises need to be clearly stated beforehand. If the potential compromises are not clear, then the voters cannot know how their chosen party might let them down.

A statement of priorities is no more than that. If voters are to know what they are voting for, any party’s list of priorities has to be measured up against its acceptability to a coalition partner.

That begs a few questions that the smaller parties have not answered at all:
1. who are their potential partners?
2. what compromises will be necessary?
3. how will compromise affect their ability to truly represent their voters’ interests?

It is a disservice to voters to leave those questions unaddressed.

I do not for any second doubt the genuineness of Cora’s questions and would like to try to answer them. In some cases it is not about answering them rather than pointing out why the question cannot be asked at this point. So. A small party knows that it will never have a majority to govern on its own hence its aspiration for a coalition. In “admitting” to the electorate that it is aspiring for a coalition it is actually honest about limitations of its popularity or pragmatic about how the odds are stacked against its obtaining a full majority or, as in the case of Italian parties, always operates in a coalition scenario.

So the first principle behind their campaign is an the aim to form a coalition government. In doing so the party is also hoping to be in a position to be a necessary partner to another party (that goes without saying). However at the voting stage what is more important than the partner party (I apologise for the silly sounding alliteration) are the principles that this small party represents and the ones it promises to take up with any party willing to form a coalition. Let us not forget that voters vote on issues and the small party will be asking for a mandate to represent those positions in parliament. So until the election, having stated it is interested in being part of a coalition, a small party will present the list of points on which it will form a coalition.

Let us assume that the small party does achieve enough votes to be a necessary partner in a coalition. It is in that event that the list of promises comes to bear as Cora rightly points out. The answer to the first question can only come into play at this moment. Take a simplistic scenario of 49-49-2 (%) (please Fausto accept them as a simulation – feel free to modify figures if you like but I guess you get the idea) – in this case the small party is in a position to negotiate with any of the other two parties to form a government. This is the stage where the small party is most criticised as having the “kingmaker” position although often critics do not bear in mind that the necessity for reaching an agreement does not give it all that much power in the end.

In order to form a governing majority that effectively represents the interests of the majority of the population the two parties will have to compromise on their points. What compromises will be necessary? I don’t think any negotiator goes to a table highlighting points on which he is more inclined to let go. That would be suicide. To answer question 3, in the case of Alternattiva I believe that they have stated that once they have negotiated a package they will consult with their members to see if they accept it. Voters’ interest in this case is supreme.

MLP and PN (more so PN) have ruled out a coalition. It is convenient for them to do so at this point. If the simplistic scenario I outlined above does come into play however it will no longer be easy for Gonzi (or Sant) to dismiss the verdict of the people. It may come as a surprise to some that our Constitution does not mention political parties in Chapter VII (The Executive). Have a look at Article 80 (Appointment of Ministers):

Wherever there shall be occasion for the appointment of a Prime Minister, the President shall appoint as Prime Minister the member of the House of Representatives who, in his judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of the members of that House and shall, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint the other Ministers from among the members of the House of Representatives:

This is why coalitions are possible. A coalition allows the potential Prime Minister to muster a sufficient number of members of the House of Representatives to form a majority. If I am not mistaken, political parties were not mentioned in the Constitution at all until the need to correct electoral anomalies arose after the 1981 elections (but then the last Constitutional Law lecture I attended is a good 14 years old now – so I may be wrong about the detail). Back to Gonzi and Sant their duty at that point (under the Constitution) is to form the majority mentioned under article 80. If 51% of the electorate (49+2) means having a coalition then so be it. Of course the odds are stacked against this happening thanks to the MLPN adjustments that have taken place with regards to article 52.

The long and short of it? Basically a small party like AD is not obliged to point out its potential partners before the election. As it stands with PN and MLP it cannot do otherwise since they are not willing to show any possibility of the situation arising (I would say they are scared stiff). Once the chips are down it will be another matter. PN and MLP will be obliged (towards their electors among other things) to sit at a table and discuss. Compromises will come into play then – and both sides will do their hard bargaining. You can reach an impasse (read Belgian politics). It is however dangerous at that point to spit in the face of the electorate and cause trouble.

As for the last question… ideally I agree with AD’s position best. A consultation of its organs (A General Council Meeting) once negotiations are over are the best guarantee that the coalition will represent its voters interests.

Now. That is how it could occur. Obviously defenders of the PN school of thought find the idea of coalition abhorrent. It’s understandable, especially when they are used to all or nothing politics. Coalition governance requires refined political skills, more accountability and politicians on the alert not to do a faux pas. That could be too hard for the PN administration to muster. But it might be worth putting them through the test.

This post is too long. Will have to cut it short here. Cheers Cora for the interesting question.

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30 responses to “There will be blood

  1. Is there any phase of the constitution that allows for a minority government….32-32-1 with no 50%+1 for the two major parties and no coalition of any kind?

    Will the party with the most number of votes be asked to form a minority government?

    Is there anything in the constitution??

  2. Jacques, first of all, and this addresses the point of Vince Collins above, you confuse the majority of the electorate with the majority in Parliament. No, it’s not 49%-49%-2% which necessitates a coalition but 32-32-1 seats. Which, I trust you agree, is much more remote than the first scenario and which brings back to mind Michael Falzon’s article that, however, the voting, districting (and consequently, number of seats) favour Labour.

    That point may not effect the substance of your argument but it certainly makes the coalition scenario more remove … and “Vote Harry, Get Freddie” more likely.

    No, it’s not publishing coalition proposals which is ridiculous in all this. It’s the Greens assuming there will have to be a coalition. I was impressed, reading one of the Party officials writing that after the election which got us in the EU the next step is coalition government, Erm, there are actually two intermediary steps before that: one, get yourself election, two, find yourself in a balance-of-power role.

    Which is why the whole Green position is so preposterous. I have known parties which entered into electoral alliances in order to form coalitions if elected in office (social democrats and greens in the German 1998 election), others which negotiated after (christian democrats and social democrats after the 2005 election) but none where one published coalition proposals. It would have been like tixtri l-hut fil-bahar. After all, to continue the German analogy, in Germany, a country which has been ruled by coalitions since the war, in 2005 one could have fairly expected either the Greens or the Free Democrats to form part of the governing coalition. They didn’t.

  3. There is no way a small party will get parliamentary representation with 2% of the national votes unless those 2% are all concentrated in just one or maximum two districts. A party needs 16.6% in one district to get a seat. So if it is contesting on all districts it will have to be pushing over 10% overall to be in a position to achieve that 16.6% in one district where maybe it is exceptionally strong.

    Still this election promises to be the most unpredictable we’ve had in a long time.

  4. There. I knew that writing at 1.38 am does not produce something Fausto cannot criticise. When I said you get the gist I was thinking that. In essence I needed an example that came up with a situation where the small party is needed to form a coalition. So – call it 32-32-1 instead if you like but for the sake of the example I concentrated on the issue of how a coalition is negotiated.

    As for whether one is more remote than the other we can agree on the remoteness. We will not agree on the fact that the last reform of article 52 meant that an opportunity to make it less remote (and more representative) was passed over by MLPN. It is for that reason in fact, that 32-32-1 (if you want to nit pick) is more remote than 49%-49%-2%.

    As for the Greens not being in German coalition in 2005. True. The two bigger parties tried to do without them and formed a Grand Coalition. It’s not being touted as being so Grand now as Angela Merkel announced on the 27th February 2008 that she intends to form a new coaltion with the Greens.

    As for the hypothetical 2%. Sure. Make it 7%, make it 8% make it what you like. Remember we were discussing a hypothesis that gives you the need for a coalition. Don’t anyone go playing Sant and the surcharge bill on Xarabank with me.

  5. Jacques, all or nothing politics are not endemic to the PN. In 2003 Alfred Sant had said that an alliance between two parties with a minority of seats is a ‘democratic threat’ because it forms a majority of seats against a majority of votes. I’m using the phrase majority of votes very loosely, because it depends on your own interpretation of voters’ intentions. If the majority of voters intended to elect a government with policies that are more closely aligned with the PN and AD, is it still antidemocratic? You would have to compare each party’s policies, and like Cora said, where the minority party in the coalition differs, it would have to compromise. And what is that, if not ‘all or nothing’?

  6. Matthew, compromise is very different from the “all or nothing” approach you speak of. If the minor coalition party compromised on an issue which is of lesser importance – say the timing of a certain measure or the siting of a project or the way a measure was implemented, and got another measure implemented as part of the negotiation process, then there would be a net benefit.
    I agree that all or nothing politics is not an exclusive PN game but pointing out that the MLP is the same simply reinforces my conviction that it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other

  7. Why is the concept of coalition so difficult to understand/accept in Malta? Is it the winner-take-all mentality linking us to our Arab brothers?

    I can’t understand why we seem to be reinventing the wheel here. Coalitions are old hat in most of Europe. Even countries such as Pakistan and India are used to this idea, come on!! Come to think of it however, it was a complete flop in the Palestinian territories. So maybe, to use a newly-popular phrase, it’s not in our DNA after all… There are no coalition governmets to the south of our islands that’s for sure ..now that certainly gives you stability.

  8. I do not believe that AD will get elected to parliament for 2 main reasons.

    First of all they are not going to get the large amount of votes needed. Secondly with the districts being set in the way they are with Sliema and Swieqi in two diferent districts thay have no chance since they will get most of their votes will be divided in two districts.

    Moreover in order to be able to put in practice their coalition plans then they must hold the balance of power. Which is also quite difficult since most probably even if PN get a majority of votes would they be able to get a majority of seats and it will only be due to the 1987 amendment that they will have a majority in parliament.

    But then for the sake of arguing let us assume that AD will hold the balance of power. Then Harry would have to choose between Sant and Gonzi.

    Why on earth should we leave it up to him to choose for us. The choice is between those two gentlemen and ite le should be up to the voters to decide and not leave it up to Harry.

  9. “It was a complete flop in the Palestinian territories” – Dispassionate

    Even a birthday party is a complete flop in the Palestinian territories. What about Italy?

  10. Musmar: Not that old chestnut again! Italy has always been an aberration – its overabundamce of Latin egos has lead to a massive fragmentation in the political spectrum. Under no stretch of the imagination can we have a situation in Malta where Parliament is replete with dozens of parties and mini-parties – the 16% threshold in one district sees to that. The absence of a national or regional threshold in the Italian system adds to their woes. So let’s compare like with like.

    Moreover, we have this tendency of always mentioning the British and Italian examples – one as a model of stability , the other of chaos. The truth is that both models are extreme and that the wider world is not made up of just the UK and Italy, difficult as that might be to comprehend for a lot of Maltese , given our historical, cultural and and colonial hang-ups.

    What about Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Austria,Denmark, just to mention a few from the older member states..the list could go on and on. So please let’s move on.

  11. We will not agree on the fact that the last reform of article 52 meant that an opportunity to make it less remote (and more representative) was passed over by MLPN. It is for that reason in fact, that 32-32-1 (if you want to nit pick) is more remote than 49%-49%-2%.

    No. 32-32-1 is more remote than 49%-49%-2% for the reasons so well explained by Marco. No system in the world translates votes into seats perfectly for the simple reason that Parliaments are always smaller than electorates.

    Granted, the point does not effect the substance of your argument but it shows why it is the case that voting Harry gets you Freddie and explains why many people fail to comprehend that.

    As for the Greens not being in German coalition in 2005. True. The two bigger parties tried to do without them and formed a Grand Coalition. It’s not being touted as being so Grand now as Angela Merkel announced on the 27th February 2008 that she intends to form a new coaltion with the Greens.

    1.30 a.m. or 9.30 a.m. and you’re still sloppy on the details. The two bigger parties in Germany did not try to “to do without” the Greens. A Black-Green or a Red-Green coalition would not have had a majority in the Bundestag.

    Relevant for this scenario: coalitions are not just pick-and-choose buffets, there are mathematical constraints and possibilities. Relevant to our case here: the only hypothesis where where a coalition becomes necessary is one where no party get an absolute majority of seats.

    And, btw, Merkel has considered the possibility of a Black-Green coalition not in the Bundestag but in the state of Hamburg. There, yes, the Christian Democrats mathematically can make a coalition with the Greens (although only because one with the preferred partners — the Free Democrats — would not be mathematically sufficient).

    As for the hypothetical 2%. Sure. Make it 7%, make it 8% make it what you like. Remember we were discussing a hypothesis that gives you the need for a coalition. Don’t anyone go playing Sant and the surcharge bill on Xarabank with me.

    Right. And, as I said, think in terms of Parliamentary seating.

  12. Why is the concept of coalition so difficult to understand/accept in Malta?

    Because the possibility is so remote that there’s a greater chance that the hair on my head will go back. I do not even think about. (My hair, that is; thinking might make me balder).

  13. Jacques: Thanks for picking up on my questions and providing an analytical reply.

    The discussion on coalitions is interesting, but not always fully informative if it keeps revolving around AD. I notice that all talk of coalition here and elsewhere on this site, like the discussions that take place offline, assumes:

    1. that a coalition is inevitable
    2. that it will involve only AD as the minority coalition partner.

    Here’s the thing. The only ‘party ‘that has taken a no-compromise stance is the single issue IE. “Blacks out” is a simple message for people to understand so there’s no confusion there among potential voters about which banner they would be rallying behind. The likelihood of IE being elected and then finding a majority coalition partner is in doubt. Its position is not. IE represents just one issue. There is no room for compromise. So if IE is elected as the third voice, no coalition is possible. That will not stop anyone voting IE, though.

    The situation is different with AN and AD. Each of the two parties represents more than one issue to potential voters, even though there is a lingering belief that all AD represents is “save the environment”. Still, AN and AD are attractive to single issue voters who feel they stand more of a chance of feeling fully represented in parliament, as opposed to having their interests represented.

    “Single issue voters” does not necessarily mean people with peevish grudges (“ma hadtx promotion”) or someone with a singular passion (“I hate golf courses”/”down with development”), or someone whose primary concern underpins much of his/her personal life (“I want a divorce”). It can also mean people who want a coalition because they’ve decided that that is what Malta needs. They will be happy whatever compromise their party settles for. But those people with peevish grudges or overriding passions and concerns may not be willing to compromise.

    So can any party other than IE be sure of fully representing its voters. If not, what you seem to be saying is that in voting for smaller parties voters take a shot in the dark. How is that different from voting for a larger party?

  14. Over here in Canada we have a minority govt. which has been doing pretty good for the last two years.

    PC.. 126
    LIB….94
    BQ…49
    NDP…30

    The Conservatives have managed to get the support of one of the other parties since the last election, as a matter of fact they got the support of the Liberals to pass the budget just last Tuesday.

    Is THAT possible in Malta?? Is there anything in the Constitution with regards to minority govt.??

  15. Correction: the first line in the last paragraph should be:
    So can any party other than IE be sure of fully representing its voters if elected to parliament?

  16. Ranier Fsadni’s column in today’s Times is relevant to this debate. You can read it here: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080228/opinion/gaming-the-electoral-result

  17. That article is somewhat intellectually dishonest. There are several other possible scenarios, besides the valid hypotheses (for that is all that they are) that Fsadni makes: (i) PN grassroots appalled at the prospect of Gonzi handing the keys to Castille to AS. (ii) PN Ministers refusing to go into opposition and the job market when they could keep their jobs, (iii) AD and MLP failing to agree on a coalition platform and PN forming a minority government, (iv) Gonzi giving more importance to a relative majority of votes than a relative majority of seats, (v) Gonzi being principled and accepting the verdict of the people, namely that they might want a blue-green coalition (although Fsadni does not consider this to be a principled approach apparently).

    Fsadni also attacks AD for targeting PN seats. Does he expect AD to sit this one out or target seats where they do not have support?

    As for the Schroeder analogy, the problem was not the pre-election campaigning but the post-election claim that he should form the government and his refusal to be anything but Chancellor.

  18. And what about a PN-MLP coalition? I believe that neither of them would want to be held hostage by a single AD MP, so they may agree to join forces for a set period of time (let’s say a year) and then hold fresh elections. Any views?

  19. Here are a few more options to consider

    MLP AD
    MLP AN
    MLP AN AD
    PN AN

  20. Cora, tinsiex lil ta l-Alpha, il-Lowell u lil Viva Malta ghax jiehdu ghalihom

  21. Fausto: Try Pantene V. It doesn’t work, but at least you feel you’re doing something.

  22. Mark, please elaborate – what is it that takes the biscuit exactly?

  23. Well – minorities ‘are’ options, are they not? :c) AN and AD are minority parties but they are not the only minority options out there.

  24. heard great things about there will be blood and seeing there is daniel day lewis, directed by paul thomas anderson (as if the former wasn’t good enough reason to go watch it), i’ll be sure to pop in at the cinema very soon 🙂

  25. Noel: I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!

    That quote from the film is viral in the US right now.

  26. here’s your milkshake Keith

  27. ma kellekx tmur tiskiija int?

    J’accuse: mort u gejt. Int fejn kont s’issa?

  28. Patrick, Fausto – just don’t fall into the wig trap, that’s all. Once you put one on, you can never take it off…..

  29. Charles Cauchi

    Dear JRZ

    I came across your blog thanks to Ms. Caruana Galizia’s invitation to read her blog during the next six (seven?) days. (Do the rules for ‘a day of reflection’ apply on the web?)

    Since I don’t have the advantage of your high intellectual capacity, the first time I read your ‘Daphne’s Invigilators’ I couldn’t really understand what the heck you were talking about, and why you took so long to say it, so I dived for my dictionary to find out the meaning of ‘Hermeneutically’, which left me none the wiser in which context you are using this fine word.

    I suppose that you are urging people like me to let you interpret what Daphne is saying. After all you are a lawyer, and at the European Court of Justice to boot!

    Thank God I was at least able to understand some of your allusions to MacCarthyism, DC propaganda, baby-eating communists, Political Neighbourhood Watch etc. I thought that 1984 was 24 years out of date. Now let’s see if you get that allusion. Isn’t that clever of me?

    I am afraid I made heavy weather of ‘non-sequiturs’, ‘proto-psychological’ and ‘wankellectual’. But I know what ‘Catch-22’ means because I’ve read the book.

    Finally, thank you for opening my eyes to the wicked machinations of Daphne the Invigilator and her cohorts of Intelligent Voting Police.

    C. Cauchi

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