With Maltese expats returning home to vote ahead of the MEP elections, questions must be asked whether the pledge to finally stop this financial burden will be a reality.
It’s been close to six years since the Labour Party included the pledge in their successful electoral manifesto to allow expats to vote in their countries of residence. However, during this period of political dominance, the government which has consistently praised its ability to get things done is yet to make any progress on this issue.
Muscat has made several hints that the change will take place, with amendments expected to happen during the long-awaited proposed constitutional convention.
As it stands, Malta forms part of just four EU counties (Ireland, Czechia, and Slovakia) who do not allow its citizens to vote from another country, even if it is an EU member state. The EU Commission has flagged this as an issue, identifying Malta as a country whose laws “lead to the loss of voting rights”.
Most countries within the EU allow their citizens to vote in their country of residence, be that through a postal vote, electronic voting, or voting at polling stations within their respective consulates or embassies of their host country.
The government currently subsidies Air Malta flights to bring voters down to the country, with the airline making tickets available against a charge of €90. However, the initiative is a massive financial burden considering the very few people that actually use this system.
For example, in the 2017 general election, the bill was €1.75 million for just 1,717 voters living abroad. While in 2015, the government forked out €1.1 million flying 1,346 voters to the island for the Spring Hunting referendum.
While no figures are available, there most likely exists a large group of Maltese citizens who are unable to participate in elections that affect their country. Some people are simply unable to find the time or money to make the laborious trip down with their busy work schedules.
Concerns around this issue are not new, with critics discussing the issue since 2013 and the Democratic Party (PD) even highlighting the problem at the start of the MEP election campaign.