For over a decade I have been advocating wholesale constitutional change as a way out of the race to the bottom in which we find ourselves embroiled. The system, the argument goes, is rotten to the core. The rules of the game have been rigged in such a way that a constitution for the people has been transformed into a constitution of the parties.
The whole system of rights and obligations intended to guarantee a fair society is perverted beyond recognition and becomes a machine at the service of the parties and their aiders and abettors. Politics with a big P – the kind that is underpinned with social policies and planning – is swept aside to be replaced by a network of corruption supported by neutered institutions.
The system feeds upon itself. It is programmed for self-preservation. At no point in the history of the two political parties that enjoy this hegemony has there been a genuine effort to bring about the wholesale change that is required because – and this should be clear by now – it does not pay either of them.
In a post on my blog in 2016, “No Flowers in Panama”, I had outlined how the system is actually “soil that is fertile for corruption”. The electoral process, the system of governance, the checks and balances were by then clearly broken beyond repair. I had written of a short list of changes that could provoke our parties into working in a new mindset by destroying the comfort zones on which their corrupt system was built.
I had mentioned three cardinal points that could underpin a real change: (1) the removal of districts from national elections, (2) the introduction of party lists elected based on proportional representation into parliament (with minimum threshold), (3) the introduction of technocratic government with ministers chosen from outside parliament (and accountable to Parliament).
This was a rough outline. An idea. It was based on returning parliament to its primary role as it was before being hijacked by the executive. Constitutional change would obviously require much more work and research, but this was something to go on.
This week the two party leaders addressed the Malta Youth Parliament and PM Robert Abela threw a few provocative thoughts into the arena. Surprisingly these included both the revision of districts and the consideration of technocratic governance. I should be overjoyed.
This is however “silly-season” or what we could better term as the run-up to the elections. Our parties are in overdrive trying to seem accessible and open-minded.
Defunct ideas, or ideas that are permanently condemned to the backburner are suddenly revived with gusto and sold as the next cool thing after sliced bread. Take for example the renewed talks concerning a metro by a government that can’t even get bathroom tiling on the Regional Road right.
It’s all talk and no substance in the end. The constitution still has its enemies. The ones who have perverted it beyond recognition still have no interest in pressing the reset button. More so if the reset button means zeroing down on the advantages and perks they’ve accumulated over the years.
The long-term effects of this charade are still to be felt. Government by illusion can only work for so long. A system that’s been milked dry will eventually collapse whether its main participants like it or not. Johnson’s Brexit government for example was quickly given a reality check as the lies that led to Brexit have come to slap the UK in the face.
Petrol shortages, empty supermarket shelves and a huge gap in the employment market that hasn’t, after all, been filled by those Brits who’d supposedly lost their jobs to foreigners, have unmasked the web of lies wrought by the Leave campaign. It could be lonely this Christmas for Johnson.
Back to our paladins of democratic governance. Abela’s provocative thoughts for the youths of this country are miles away from the reality of where our democracy is heading. The strong grip of our partitocracy is about to get stronger as government by illusion survives another scrutiny.
The mask, though, might be slowly coming apart. Patience and perseverance might win out in the end, against all the odds.