The Malta Independent 22 September 2017, Friday

‘I will vote with my hands tied behind my back’ - Edwin Vassallo

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 9 July 2017, 08:45 Last update: about 3 months ago

PN MP Edwin Vassallo made waves last week after defying his Party Whip by voting against the second reading of the Marriage Equality Bill. Speaking to Julian Bonnici, Vassallo remained coy about his future plans but hinted that he will toe the party line in the final reading next Wednesday. The MP also claimed that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and PN Leader Simon Busuttil were ‘totalitarian’ leaders who are promoting a ‘fake democracy’.

You voted against the second reading of the Marriage Equality Bill. How do you intend to vote in the third?

The first thing I want to make clear is that Parliament debated the marriage equality bill as a concept, but this is not the case when you examine the actual contents of the bill. You realise that the bill goes beyond what both political parties promised in their election manifestoes. 

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Both manifestoes called for the right to marriage to be granted to same-sex couples. It was agreed that the legislation would just be a name change for civil unions.

Instead, the government has put forward legislation that completely removes the concept of the nuclear family, mother, father, son and daughter. This was never promised in the election manifesto and it is why I voted against the bill after I had asked for a free vote from Simon Busuttil, which was denied.

I had told him, in every discussion we had before the election, that I wanted a free vote come the debate, and no one ever said ‘no’.

This is the concept of the free vote. When Germany approved gay marriage a couple of weeks ago, Angela Merkel gave her Parliament a free vote. In my opinion, since this goes beyond what was stated in the manifesto, free votes should have been given to both parties.

I would be dishonest to myself and to the people I represent if I voted in favour. I believe that it is a fundamental human right to express what you believe in. I exercised that right against the will of the party and stood up to be counted.

Had the legislation been squarely focused on same-sex marriage, I would have come to Parliament with my arguments against or in favour. But currently, it is a dishonest law that says one thing when its contents say something else. It is an exercise in deception that starts tampering with laws that effect with the right to life.

 

How exactly?

The bill is preparing for surrogacy and sperm donation and all the other amendments that will take place. I could be for or against it, but I cannot stand in front of Parliament – in front of my people – and say ‘yes’ to something that I will say ‘no’ to tomorrow.

How will those who voted in favour be able to say no to other related issues to come when they have committed their position already? People will have to shoulder their own moral responsibility.

In Germany there was a free vote, and that is the difference with this country. We say that we are democratic but we do not respect democracy; we say we are liberal but we do not respect freedom. If Muscat and Busuttil really respected liberal values and democracy they would have given a free vote.

Muscat and Busuttil want everyone to vote the same. There has never been complete parliamentary consensus anywhere in the world when it comes to legislation on gay marriage, surrogacy, sperm donation – issues that are to do with life. 

The predominant logic of Busuttil and Muscat is a totalitarian logic that does not allow any ideas that are different to theirs. Today, parliament is founded on the ideals of democracy and liberty, but when it really matters – on issues that are fundamental issues of conscience which are tied to human dignity – if you dare to have a different opinion than your leader, you are doomed to either vote as your party dictates, or declare your vote against the will of the party.

The independent media, and anyone who has a responsibility towards this country and the values of democracy and liberty, has to call on the political leaders to stop behaving in a totalitarian way. The values of democracy and freedom are not being respected.

Muscat did not provide a free vote for his party either. He may say he is a liberal but he is not, and likewise Simon Busuttil. What is contrary to freedom is oppression. I am oppressed.

In Merkel’s parliament, I would not even be doing this interview. I would not have needed to stand against my Whip if things in Malta were being done normally.

 

So how will you be voting?

I will vote with my conscience. I have asked for a free vote once again. I will leave my options open and I will decide what is best. I want to make it clear that I am against this particular legislation. I will never stop defending my beliefs. I will do it with prudence, as I was taught as a Christian to respect authority, but I want authority to also respect me.

What is happening is an attack on fundamental human rights, not those of a Christian, but those of a person. On the one hand, I can go against my party and stand up and say No once again. There is another choice, but I will have to go to vote with my hands tied behind my back. I will vote for my party in protest and I will make a declaration that I took a stand and will continue to do so in the future.

There are people I have to represent, and I will not let them down. I want to remain alive in politics and continue fighting against this grave injustice.

I have been four years in this prison of silence. This is oppression; it is not joke in a country that is meant to be democratic and liberal.

I am telling Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil, that ‘you are not liberals, you are using people, and you are totalitarians. If you were really liberals you would allow everyone to express their own opinion, even if you didn’t agree with it.’

 

But will you vote in favour or against – yes or no?

My options will be open, and I will continue to ask for a free vote every day until Wednesday.

 

It appears that there are a number of different factions within the PN, from the ultra conservative to the ultra liberal. How can the party progress when there are groups on different trajectories? Is the party at a crossroads?

I do not agree that the party is at a crossroads. I believe that where there is meant to be clarity of fact, there is confusion. The confusion is here because the true values of the party are being betrayed, and not by me. 

Human dignity is the basis of the Nationalist Party. I want to remain responsible to the party. I love the party and I want to take it in the direction so that when an issue like this arises, this will not be the order of the day.

These factions exist in the PL too. They are just more silent since they are in government and Muscat has become mighty and divine.

Muscat is not on the right path, and neither is Busuttil. These two have placed the country – and not the PN – at a crossroads. If a liberal law is passed in Parliament, I have respect for its decision. I just want the right to a free vote when it involves a moral issue related to life.

With surrogacy, let’s say that we had a difference of opinion. Why should you have a leader tell you that you have to vote a certain way? Especially on issues that are not political issues – which is why I will not resign – but the decision goes against the party’s democratic principles.

I want to see a party where everyone can coexist and express what they want. Even if you are a minority you should be respected as a minority.

I have prepared myself for the last 20 years for this day. I have always said, in all my writing and speeches, that if I were in the minority, I want to be respected for the minority I represent.

 

The Labour Party has won a landslide in two general elections because Muscat has created a unified vision in the party.

A majority won in a general election does not change what is right and wrong. We always said that the election would not be a washing machine: this applied to everything and not just corruption. He cannot have a free hand to do whatever he wants.

He could introduce surrogacy through an amendment to the IVF laws, similar to what they are doing now. Were there pledges to remove the father and mother from the law?

It is unjust, and the legal jargon will not follow what is naturally right. The facts of society will remain the same but you will have legislation going against it. The normal jargon is not respected by law, and now everyone will be gender neutral and we know this is not the case in society.

It is a political choice; we could have done what was promised in the election manifesto and I would not have the problem that I have today. ‘Civil Union’ could just have been changed to ‘marriage’, that is what everyone thought would happen. The current bill is a result of dishonesty that was imposed on Parliament by Muscat.

 

There are proponents who say that gender neutrality will make no difference at all. What would you say to those people?

When you go to court it will make a difference and that is what really matters. We are already getting ready for biological mothers and fathers, so tomorrow, we can have individuals who will not be called mother or father but will just carry the baby in the womb. Those are the realities that will occur with this legislation.

The legislation was camouflaged, like a Trojan horse, under a different name. We debated a concept that had nothing to do with the bill. We were told it would reduce discrimination, but now everyone is the same. This is not equality, which is a noble principle, but a legal and moral bungling (tbazwir).  

People may say it is not worth fighting this battle and to fight another day. But this is a stepping stone for other things to come, to which I cannot say ‘yes’.

I promise the people who I represent that I will continue to say ‘no’, but I will make a compromise to remain alive politically in order to fight the future battles. I have decided to fight them from within the party and not from outside it.

 

Issues like gay marriage and surrogacy appear to have substantial support amongst young people, who – as tomorrow’s leaders – believe in the complete separation of Church and State. Do you have a message for these groups?

I am being fair with them; being a Christian in politics means nothing – it just means that I have a duty to defend human dignity, more than someone who does not. I am obliged to defend and promote human dignity, which is the common denominator.

I am not saying ‘no’ for myself, but for everyone. If someone forces me to say ‘yes’ now, I will be forced to say ‘yes’ later. At the end of the day, everyone has a right to be represented. I want even someone who is in favour of something I am against to be able to express his or her right.

If I can help reduce the negative impact what is morally wrong, I will still continue to exist in a society that does not necessarily agree with me.

I want a morally strong Nationalist Party that defends the rights of everyone, even of those who do not agree with you. We are oppressed, I am oppressed. It is unfair and unjust.

 

The PN Leadership race will soon open. Adrian Delia and Chris Said have so far indicated that they will run for the position. Is there anyone in particular you would support?

I would say let’s hear them out for the moment. I want to see a leader who uses the power of persuasion, like Guido de Marco did, unlike the art of imposition we have now. I will see who can offer me a free vote on moral issues.

Would you like to see a leader with stronger Christian democratic values?

There is no need. We can coexist in the party together. What is important is that we respect each other. We are already losing our principles right after an election which we said was an election of principles. We need to go back to basics and put our principles first, and recognise that in diversity we find unity and strength.

Muscat and Busuttil have no respect for diversity. There is chaos at the moment in the PN; I stood up to be counted, but I was subdued by the totalitarian logic of political party leaders.

This is a fake democracy, Muscat and Busuttil are fake. If they were genuine they would have done what Angela Merkel did a couple of weeks ago.

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