It is an uncomfortable reality of Maltese democracy that politicians whose surname begins with an A, B or C enjoy an advantage thanks to the infamous ‘donkey vote’, whereby people vote for party candidates based on the alphabetical order in which they appear on the ballot sheet.
And politicians are so astutely aware of the situation that PL MEP candidate Alex Saliba confirmed that such electoral considerations played a role in his decision to take his new wife’s surname and become Alex Agius Saliba. PN candidate Ryan Mercieca has also taken his wife’s surname to become Ryan Cefai Mercieca but insisted his decision had no political contestations whatsoever, so much so that he will not contest next year’s MEP elections and that no decision has yet been taken with regards the local council elections.
“The decision to take the double barrel surname was a mutual decision based only on today’s realities and the union through our marriage and we are proud of the decision,” he said.
However, all this could soon become a thing of the past after the Nationalist Party formally proposed a ballot sheet revamp to the Electoral Commission.
A PN spokesperson confirmed with Lovin Malta that the party’s delegates had originally proposed the Robson Rotation, a system whereby different sets of ballot sheets are printed, with candidates appearing at different positions in their party list. This system, which as been introduced in Tanzania and parts of Australia, doesn’t eliminate donkey voting per se but is intended to neutralise its effects by giving everyone an equal chance to benefit from it.
However, the PN said the Electoral Commission did not receive its proposal “with much enthusiasm” and that it has therefore suggested an alternative, that of having the names of candidates in an order established by a draw following the closure of the nomination process.
“PN understands this suggestion is still under review and believes that this can be introduced as early as in the upcoming elections in May.”
However, the Labour Party adopted a coy stance when asked by Lovin Malta for their stance on the Robson Rotation and donkey voting, arguing that any changes to the electoral system must be viewed in a holistic manner.
“Future changes to Malta’s electoral system must not be limited to just one aspect,” a PL spokesperson said. “In fact, any discussion on electoral changes must be much broader than the topic mentioned in your questions. Partit Laburista believes that in the coming months the priority must be given to the implementation of necessary changes in order to increase the number of women elected in Parliament, as per government’s electoral mandate.”
Although he personally stands to benefit from donkey voting, the Partit Demokratiku’s deputy leader Timothy Alden said the PD is in favour of the Robson Rotation.
“Partit Demokratiku considers itself to be the foremost champion for good governance, meritocracy and a healthier democracy for all,” Alden said. “Such a rotation would therefore be very desirable as it would promote the success of the best candidates, rather than bestow unequal advantages to some over others.”
“PD believes that there is no use wasting time in implementing such reforms, and would certainly advocate these be implemented as soon as possible. We will be advocating such changes when the opportunity arises.”
Despite being renowned as a proponent for electoral reform, green party Alternattiva Demokratika said it has no problem with the status quo.
“In AD’s view the alphabetic listing of candidates on the ballot paper coupled with photographs of the candidates is more than adequate,” AD secretary general Ralph Cassar said. “We do not consider that there is any need to change this. We have no problem with donkey voters.”
Next May’s European Parliament and local council elections will be historic from a local perspective as it will be the first time votes will be counted electronically. This system has already proven controversial after the Nationalist Party flagged serious problems and inconsistencies in the machine’s mock tests, including its rejection of 40% of valid votes as ‘dubious’.