The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Updated (4): Constitutional Court grants 2 extra seats to PN, election process to be determined

Neil Camilleri Friday, 25 November 2016, 09:22 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Constitutional Court this morning granted two extra seats to the Nationalist Party following mistakes committed in the counting process in the last general election.

The Labour Party will not lose any seats which means that, for the first time in history, Parliament will have 71 members.

The Electoral Commission will now meet to determine the process by which the two extra MPs will be elected. It is an unprecedented situation and their election could come via a casual election, a co-option exercise, a mixture of the two or any other way the commission deems fit.

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The case was filed by the PN on the way the counting of votes took place in the eighth and 13th districts, with the PN arguing that mistakes had cost the party two seats in the House.

Back in May a court had ruled that the PN should be given two additional seats. That court declared that shortcomings in the electoral process were in breach of Maltese laws as well as the European Convention. It also recommended to the Electoral Commission to set up a procedure addressing similar situation to avoid parties having to seek court redress. Both the government and the Labour Party had appealed.

The Constitutional Court, presided by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, and including Mr Justice Giannino Caruana Demajo and Mr Justice Noel Cuschieri, today confirmed that the difference between the two sides should be of seven seats.

The Constitutional Court today said PN MPs Claudette Buttigieg and Frederick Azzopardi did not have a valid judicial argument because both had been elected to parliament, even if through other means. The court described the mistakes as genuine and declared that there was no breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of the Gozo district. The court heard how a missing ten-vote parcel had ultimately been found but it could not be ascertained that all ten votes belonged to Frederick Azzopardi. In any case, these would not have made a difference.

But the court said the PN could not just be given one seat, because a seat difference that is an even number would be in breach of the constitution. The PN could only be given two seats or no seats at all. According to a mathematical formula the PN had to be given 1.25 seats, which is closer to 2 than to zero seats. As such, two seats were granted to the PN.

The court also repealed that part of the original judgement that had ordered the Electoral Commission to change the system. It said, however, that the PN should be given two extra seats at no cost to the Labour Party. These should be granted within the timeframe established in the original judgement, which was one month. 

Speaking to the media shortly after the judgement was handed down, PN Deputy Leader Beppe Fenech Adami said this was a “victory for democracy.”

PL did everything it could to delay the process and deny the Maltese people just parliamentary representation.

Despite all of these delaying tactics, righteousness had won and Joseph Muscat now had a smaller majority. “This means that the nine-seat majority he had for the past three years was a sham and was today condemned by the Constitutional Court,” Dr Fenech Adami said.

Asked who would be taking up the second seat – Edwin Vassallo is automatically elected to Parliament – the PN Deputy Leader said the party would have to analyse this.

Lawyer Paul Borg Olivier, a former PN Secretary General, said the court had confirmed the original judgement, which said the PN should be given two additional seats in the shortest time possible. “This effectively means that the composition of Parliament will now be as people wanted and voted for.”

“PN has been saying for the past three and a half years that is had been denied two seats because of a mistake. The government has been saying, in an undemocratic way that, despite this mistake, we should not be given the additional seats. Today is a victory for democracy.”

Lawyer Robert Abela, who appeared for the Labour Party, said the court has reformed the sentence, which shows how right the government was in appealing the original judgement.

The court said that the two PN MPs, Claudette Buttigieg and Frederick Azzopardi, did not have a valid judicial interest in the case. “If anything, it was the PN that had a valid argument, but only on one district. The court said the PN deserved to get just one seat but, because of our constitution, which says that the difference between government and opposition cannot be an even number.”

Dr Abela said one would now have to see how the change would be implemented.

Asked for a reaction to Dr Fenech Adami’s comments, it was the PN that had lost, not the PL. “The Labour Party still has a 36,000-vote majority and only the composition of Parliament will change.”

 

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