Opposition leader Adrian Delia committed a massive faux pas in Parliament last night, voting against a law granting more rights to victims of domestic violence and rape for a reason that doesn’t even make sense. And he managed to split his party once again in the process.
The landmark Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill has placed Malta fully in line with the Istanbul Convention on Domestic Violence.
It has extended the legal definition of rape from “sexual intercourse achieved through violence” to all types of nonconsensual sexual assault, and has doubled the maximum jail term for convicted rapists from six to twelve years. It has also given courts the power to force perpetrators of domestic violence out of their family homes, to charge them with moral damages, and to deny them any custody of their children in separation and divorce cases.
The Bill has been in the pipeline for a few years now and was never the topic of political controversy. In fact, Delia himself and all PN MPs except Edwin Vassallo had voted in favour of it at its second reading last January. Vassallo, one of the most socially conservative MPs, had only taken issue with the Bill because of it had used gender-neutral language.
Then something happened along the way…
As MPs debated the legal language of the Bill at committee stage, Vassallo took issue with how it was removing the specific reference to the unborn child as a family member that was present in the old domestic violence law.
As Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli explained to him, it was pointless specifically including the unborn child in a domestic violence Bill in the first place. Why? Because the only sort of ‘domestic violence’ one can commit on an unborn child in the first place is physical violence on the mother, and this is and will remain a crime as covered by the Criminal Code.
Yet Vassallo’s argument resonated with several of his PN colleagues, and it wasn’t long before pro-life groups joined in on the act. All of a sudden, a Bill to protect victims of domestic violence became a step towards the legalisation of abortion.
When the moment of reckoning came yesterday, Delia decided to place the completely imaginary risks to the unborn child ahead of the real tribulations of rape and domestic violence victims. Not only that, but the PN leader gave his MPs a free vote, and eight PN MPs – including his predecessor Simon Busuttil – as well as the two PD MPs voted with the government.
To make matters worse, some of Delia’s supporters clearly don’t understand the concept of a free vote and they have now taken to social media to rip into the eight “dissidents”. These include Delia’s canvasser Ċensu Borg (Ċensu l-Iswed), who went as far as to describe the “disobedient” MPs as traitors.
All Delia has done with this ridiculous move is re-open the party’s wounds that were just starting to heal after last summer’s leadership race and the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Whoever is in charge of strategy at the party really need to pull their socks up or get out before it is too late.