Malta should have fewer but larger electoral districts so as to reduce the voting power of individual favours and clamp down on clientelism, Speaker Anġlu Farrugia has proposed.
During a recent Labour Party discussion on the future of the electoral system, Farrugia warned that the current system, 13 districts in a population of around 500,000, will inevitably result in a culture of clientelism, vote-buying and patronage.
“Luxembourg only has four districts; I’m not saying we should have four districts too but if we reduce the number, candidates won’t waste their energy on their constituents controlling and conditioning them. There might be a bit of that but it will decrease drastically. Instead, candidates can use their energy for the national interest.”
The Speaker has previously come out in favour of a ‘party list’ system which would see people vote for political parties, with MPs elected according to their position on a ranked list of candidates.
However, during last week’s discussion, he proposed keeping the district system but cutting down on the number of districts.
Meanwhile, he said political parties should set up internal structures to deal with people who may have suffered an injustice or who feel let down, freeing up candidates’ time and energy to be spent on national issues.
Historian Godfrey Pirotta went a few steps further, calling for Malta to scrap its district system entirely and become a single constituency, warning that the UK granted Malta its Single Transferable Vote system precisely because it was so internally divisive.
“I link good governance with the electoral system,” he said. “We’re a small island and our economy can become very fragile very quickly, leading to serious problems.”
“I believe that the electoral system is one of the most important factors that leads Malta into problems because it’s based on clientelism to people and businesses.”
However, constitutional lawyer Ian Refalo warned against changing the current system too much, arguing that people should have as free a choice as possible to choose the MPs they feel best represent them.
“The people should be free to choose; they won’t necessarily be the best minds but I don’t want the best minds to guide me; I want my representative. Maybe I’m scared of the best minds; they could be geniuses but geniuses who work for their personal interests, I want to be free to choose a person I trust. There will always be some type of clientelism in a small country; it’s not the result of our system but our size.”
Without taking a stand in favour or against a specific type of electoral reform, PL deputy leader Daniel Micallef warned several MPs across the political spectrum dislike the current system but are scared to say so publicly lest their constituents take offence.
“Discussion is like a circle and it can lead to a point where we decide to maintain the status quo while refining it. However, we can also look at case studies that safeguard representation and stability without changing the wheel.”
“The biggest fear is often that the electoral system created a culture and that by changing the system, we’ll end up changing our culture. I want to see a change in culture which is why I’m not scared to discuss change.”
Do you think Malta should change its electoral system?