What Happened To Alternattiva Demokratika?

Things aren't looking great

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Alternattiva Demokratika's leader Arnold Cassola may have thought he was being cool and millennial when he said it might be time to start discussing legalisation of cannabis. In reality, his statement goes to show just how far his party has strayed from its roots of being a forward-looking beacon of liberal thought. 

Spoiler alert: the debate has started and we expect a much stronger stance from a party that was traditionally always on the forefront of issues that the mainstream parties preferred to ignore. 

But first, let's take a step back and remember how we got to this point. 

In February 2008, then Labour leader Alfred Sant was asked by TV show Dissett what he thought about divorce and gay rights. A few weeks before a general election against PN’s Lawrence Gonzi - an election Gonzi would later win by just 1,500 votes - Sant gave a disappointing answer to all liberals who wanted to trust him with their vote.

He totally dismissed rights for gay couples (using words like “le, le, ma tarax") and he said he would be a follower on divorce. If the people asked for it, he would let them decide. Who knows what Malta would be like today if he had responded differently?

One year later, Joseph Muscat replaced Sant as Labour leader after using these two issues as a key platform for his leadership bid. Muscat did not only win the Labour leadership contest, he also reignited support in a party that was about to be written off the history books. He instantly established a massive vote lead which was as evident in the 2009 MEP elections one year later as it was in the general election of 2013.

Today, gay rights and divorce are non-issues. When Muscat’s government proposed to introduce gay marriage last week, the Nationalist Party replied with the unprecedented statement “What are you waiting for?” A party that previously abstained on gay civil unions is now giving the government the green light on marriage. How things have changed.

Throughout Malta’s liberal awakening, Alternattiva Demokratika played an important role, even though the party was never rewarded electorally. The Green Party was always the voice of reason, campaigning for divorce and gay marriage before any of the two mainstream parties began taking the issues seriously, but also pioneering the causes of environmentalists and those who believe in clean, transparent governance.

But as we approach a new general election, we must begin asking ourselves: What will AD stand for? And how will the party differentiate itself in a more liberal Malta, when platforms like transparency and environmentalism have become key battlecries for the Nationalist Party and the new 'third party' run by Marlene Farrugia?

The truth is, AD have an opportunity. Tens of thousands of voters are unhappy by the political situation. Many voters can now genuinely say they've tried both big parties and have been left wanting. A huge section of voters are undecided because once more they feel they are faced with a poor choice: a seemingly ineffective Simon Busuttil leading a party with heavy baggage, versus a Labour government that has regressed on matters of transparency, corruption and the environment. Few are those who want to trust PN with government so soon after voting them out. Fewer still are willing to give Labour a stamp of approval to keep doing as they will.

You would think AD would be on everyone’s lips. But it’s not. And when AD’s leader Arnold Cassola got the chance to get people talking, he fudged it.

Interviewed on INDepth last week, Cassola spent most of his time talking rather objectively about the Panama scandal and the goings on of the Pana Committee. 

He was then given an opportunity to speak about a number of other issues which are creeping into public discourse. He was asked about abortion, euthanasia and decriminalisation of marijuana. Unfortunately, his answers were akin to the answers Sant gave before he fell into irrelevance.

Euthanasia? That's an “extreme case” that barely merits discussion, according to Cassola. 

Cassola said AD was “totally against” abortion. Strange, for such a liberal and European-minded party, you would think, but consistent with the unanimous position of all Maltese politicians to never touch this subject with a 10 foot pole.

Euthanasia? That's an “extreme case” that barely merits discussion, according to Cassola. 

Instead, he proposed a discussion on the living will, which would allow healthy people to determine whether they want to be kept alive or left to die if they ever end up in a situation where they are being kept alive by a machine. Sure, this should be done, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a person like Sam.

Then there was the cherry on the cake. Asked about cannabis legalisation, Cassola looked even more uncomfortable. He began by caveating his answer and saying this was his "personal opinion", as if to prepare us for something rather controversial. 

And what was his great personal opinion? 

He is “starting to think it might be time to start talking about allowing personal possession, if it could help stop mafias and trafficking and if it could help control people’s health".


Is that the sort of thinking and leadership that's meant to get young voters excited? Is this what has become of the Green Party after more than 20 years of being the leading voice of liberal thought and reason? What a disappointment.

This might be news to Arnold Cassola but the legalisation of cannabis is already being discussed, as is euthanasia, abortion and a host of other issues which at their core share a common premise: that people should be allowed to take their own decisions. 

What a pity that AD seems to have lost its direction. 

What do you think of Alternattiva Demokratika? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook

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Written By

Chris Peregin