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.