The Malta Independent 26 May 2024, Sunday
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Cancellation of local council elections a bid to derail hunting referendum – Birdlife

Malta Independent Friday, 29 August 2014, 15:47 Last update: about 11 years ago

Reacting to the announcement of a consultation by the Minister, Owen Bonnici, in to the cancelling of local council elections until 2019, BirdLife Malta today urged Maltese voters to take part in the consultation and register their concerns.

The government has argued that local council elections should be cancelled in 2015 and 2017 to both save money and address alleged voter fatigue, but a cost cannot be put on democracy and there is little evidence of voter fatigue since there is always a high voter turn out rate for local council elections. An abrogative referendum on spring hunting will take place next year and this should encourage the government to hold the local council elections at the same time to save on logistical costs. The whole aim of postponing the local council elections next year is therefore a clear attempt to discourage voters to get out and vote. 

BirdLife Malta spokesman Mark Sultana, said, “Cancelling local council elections until 2019 is an attempt to derail established democratic processes and few commentators have been convinced by the arguments that have been put forward for such a change.  BirdLife Malta has therefore concluded that the only reason why the government is proposing to cancel local council elections for such a long time is to separate these elections from the proposed abrogative referendum about spring hunting and discourage voters from taking the bold step of voting in a referendum.  Every government should encourage voter turnout, not discourage it.”

Just before they handed in their petition urging for the Referenda Act to be changed to prevent a referendum to abolish spring hunting from taking place, FKNK President Mr. Joseph Perici Calascioni explicitly called for the referendum to be stand alone. Mr Sultana added, “It is absolutely clear that the FKNK have come to the conclusion that separating local council elections from the referendum will result in a lower turn out of voters, possibly making the referendum result invalid if not enough people turn out to vote.”

The Coalition of NGOs calling for a referendum remain confident that enough people will be motivated to vote in favour of the abolition of spring hunting when the referendum takes place, but BirdLife Malta is concerned that the plans to cancel local council elections are yet another move by the government to appease the hunting lobby.  Mr Sultana added, “Since it was elected in 2013, the new government has given the hunting community everything it has demanded, including the removal of the licence fee and identifying armbands for spring hunters, the removal of the afternoon curfew in autumn that protected rare migrating birds of prey from illegal hunting and of course the return of finch trapping, even though this was part of Malta’s Treaty of Accession to the EU.”

Article 3 of the First Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms requires that elections should take place at “reasonable intervals.” The cancelling of local council elections until 2019 will result in some Councillors serving for a total of seven years.

Cancelling local council elections would also derail proposals to allow 16 year olds to vote for the first time, meaning that anyone turning 16 in 2015 would not get to vote until the next general election at the earliest. 

Mr Sultana insisted, “The FKNK, as representatives of the hunting community, have bullied and harassed governments of both parties for decades, but tampering with Maltese democracy to appease them is surely something most Maltese voters will strongly object to.”

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