The Malta Independent 18 September 2021, Saturday

Euthanasia, new electoral system on Labour’s agenda

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 25 July 2021, 09:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Labour Party has recently presented a list of what it described were 100 ideas that were based on the principles of the past with a view to the future.

The document is divided into 10 sections which deal with wealth, a just society, the environment, education, health, democracy, equality, Gozo, Malta’s role in the international sphere and local councils.

The document is intended for discussion and could well form the foundation of the Labour Party’s electoral programme.

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The PL chose “100” as it plays on the emotions of its followers in the year of its 100th anniversary. It is a stretched exercise that could have easily been condensed into a shorter document. But 100 ideas look good on the 100th anniversary, don’t they?

Many of these ideas are notions that have already started to take place or else are written so vaguely that they leave so many options open, should Labour be questioned about them now and in the future.

But then the document also includes a few subjects that could be highly controversial, ones that certainly need to be studied in depth, but which show that the Labour Party is courageous enough to put them on the country’s agenda.

Two of them are euthanasia and a new electoral system.

Past and future

When Prime Minister and PL leader Robert Abela launched the document, he spoke of three principles on which the ideas were based.

The first was that the Labour Party remains linked to employment – the workers and their employers.

The PL is not known anymore as the Workers’ Party (Partit tal-Haddiema) as it was for decades. We no longer hear that expression, so common in the latter part of the last century. For years the Labour Party seemed to enjoy conflict with the private sector. But now it has opened its arms to embrace the employers too, finally realising that workers and employers are intrinsically linked, and that one side cannot live without the other. It is a shift that started under Joseph Muscat, who made it clear that the PL wanted to be close to business. Since then, the PL has moved in this direction.

The second principle is the wisdom to fight against adversity. Here the PM said that the PL had never chosen austerity and never repressed workers to make up for market deficiencies. Probably Abela is too young to remember the bulk-buying days of the 1980s and how budgets rotated on the price of bread, milk and tuna. He should have been told about them before making such a statement. He should have also been told how foreign products were not allowed to be imported so as to sustain those produced in Malta, which were of a much inferior quality. Yes, there was austerity back then and saying otherwise is a distortion of history.

The third principle is the equal distribution of wealth, ensuring that it reaches everyone. This is pure socialism, intended to ensure that the roots of the party were still intact.

The 100

Many of the 100 points listed in the document are ambiguous enough so as to give a sense of importance when, if one had to read them carefully, they do not add up to much.

It seems that the compilers of the report were given a task to reach 100 and they were struggling to do so, and therefore they resorted to some well-known clichés which enabled them to achieve their target.

“Wide diversification of the economy”, “careful administration of public funds”, “potential of SMEs”, “strengthening of social benefits” and “peace of mind for elderly persons” are all platitudes which are saying a lot without saying anything at all.

Just as much as “public land should be enjoyed by everyone”, “development must be sustainable”, “upgrading waste recycling processes”, “children should be brought closer to arts, culture, science and sports”, “an education system that requires constant investment”, “youths and adults should be encouraged to read more”, “improved connectivity to Gozo” (but no specific mention of the tunnel), “Gozo as a separate destination from Malta”, “improved participation of local councils in national politics” are prosaicisms intended to impress without carrying tangible explanations.

We have been hearing about “addressing poverty”, “ensuring dignified lifestyle for everyone”, “offering equal educational opportunities”, “holistic planning policy”, “best experience in education for children”, “justice being served in a timely manner”, “the courts of justice must be more accountable, transparent and efficient” and “offering redress for people who are offended by declarations made by MPs who abuse parliamentary privilege” for many years.

Just to discuss a couple of the points above, it is rather ironic that the document speaks of “holistic planning policy” when most of Malta has already been eaten up by greedy entrepreneurs in spite of public protestations. Added to this, the government itself is not giving too much notice to environmental matters when carrying out its seven-year road projects.

And, with regard to abuse of parliamentary privilege, this was something that was first brought up 25-30 years ago; so why are we still speaking about “introducing it” now? Are MPs afraid to give up this privilege which has been abused time and again? Is it just an electoral ploy which will be forgotten once the votes are cast, only to be brought up again on the eve of the next election?

There is, then, no mention at all of the Covid-19 pandemic in the health section. Given the crisis we are experiencing, one would have thought that it would have been a central point in the PL’s plans for the sector.

Tourism balance

The first point to catch our eye was number 10, which speaks about the need to have a “sustainable tourism industry that finds a balance between numbers and quality”.

This is where the document gets interesting, because here the PL is admitting that Malta needs to make up its mind on where to take this important sector.

For many years, successive governments have boasted about growing numbers. First we reached one million tourists per year, then two million, and we were getting close to three million before Covid-19 hit. These growing numbers were however leading to concerns about the pressure on Malta’s infrastructure. There was also talk about low quality tourists, those who spend little while on holiday, as making up a sizeable chunk of the arrivals.

But governments and stakeholders were oblivious to this apprehension, and were only too pleased to boast about consecutive records that were being achieved, without looking at the bigger picture.

The PL now seems willing to tackle the subject. It has been finally realised that one tourist who spends €10 is better that 10 tourists who spend €1. But one wonders what the MHRA will say about this.

Democracy

The most interesting segment of the document is the one related to the democratic foundations of the country.

The first point in this particular sector refers to the strengthening of the “unprecedented reform in good governance and rule of law” for the country to be considered as “a best practice” at European level. Yes, at a time when Malta is on the grey list, the government needs to work hard in this area. It is however highly ambitious for it to think that Malta could move from being the first and only country on the grey list to being the best.

Then there are two lines which are important (point 52). These refer to the “start of a national discussion on the current electoral system”.

We have a very complicated way, we all know that. Most politicians would struggle to explain how it works. The single transferable vote is a very intricate way of electing our MPs, and although changes have been made since the 1981 perverse result which had the PL in government in spite of obtaining fewer votes, we are still far from simplifying the process.

But what does the PL have in mind?

Does it want a complete overhaul of the system, doing away with long lists of candidates and instead going for party-voting, rather than a vote for individuals? Or is it referring to some cosmetic changes, such as the one it enlists in another point of its 100 ideas document – having the ID card serving as a voting document?

We have moved to electronic counting in the last MEP election, which it is hoped will be used in the general election. But what about electronic voting? Is this what the PL is thinking?

Euthanasia

Then there is another point which is set to create controversy, and this is the idea (point 63) for a national discussion on “voluntary euthanasia for people with a terminal illness”. Again, like in point 52, the PL wants a national discussion, which in itself is a good thing.

The subject will no doubt be a hot topic, as were all public debates concerning civil rights and liberties we had in the past decade, including divorce and gay marriage.

The fact that Labour wants to discuss euthanasia leads one to think that it is in favour of the idea. Otherwise, it would not mention it. Once again, Labour is heading towards a face-to-face confrontation with the Church.

In this particular area, the PL has been very careful in its choice of words. It speaks of people with a terminal illness, and the idea is to relieve them of pain when there is no hope of a better life. Many people in this condition end up suffering immensely, while their relatives and loved ones agonise in the knowledge that they can do nothing to alleviate the misery.

The PL also uses the word “voluntary”, which would mean that the person involved must be in a position to agree to the termination of life.

So the PL, while wanting to discuss euthanasia, is already placing strict parameters.

It is, after all, a subject that should be treated delicately.

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