The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

A government of national unity?

Mark Said Sunday, 19 September 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 2 months ago

Last June, PN Leader Bernard Grech  called for a radical change in politics to build unity in the country, whereas months before, Prime Minister Robert Abela had called for an end to partisanship, stressing that Malta should build on national unity. Unity was the keyword. So why not a Government of national unity rather than one for national unity?

A nationally unified government is a broad coalition government consisting of all parties (or all major parties) in the legislature, usually formed during a time of war or other national emergencies. The strategy is normally employed in a time of crisis and is based on the assumption that a group of cross-party MPs could work together in what is widely considered to be in the best interests of an entire nation. In order for a national unity government to take power, those MPs would have to collaborate and gain the confidence of the House of Representatives. They would then tell the President that they are able to command a majority, thus asking them to form a government. A government of national unity is based on the premise of doing what is in the best interest of the whole country in a time of crisis.

It may be argued that we do at the moment have some sort of national crisis, what with the greylisting of Malta by the FATF, the blacklisting by the UK and the damning Report of the Inquiry delving into Caruana Galizia's assassination.

National unity governments have been formed in democratic countries all over the world during times of crises or following the breakdown of governments. In Malta, we know there is generally less chance of a coalition-style government because the country uses a voting system which increases the likelihood of a single party gaining a majority.

A Government of national unity can be seen as an important initiative to ensure that our country continues to enjoy socio-political stability, and at the same time, help boost the country's development in various sectors. The key characteristic of a government of national unity would be the inclusion of the two  main competing parties in the executive. Such a move would not mean that the legitimacy of the party in power is called into question or that it is incapacitated to govern the country alone. Rather, it would mean that such a party seeks greater legitimacy and credibility by forming a governance alliance with partners in opposition. The means by which such a governing alliance is implemented will of course vary in different institutional contexts but I believe it is possible in our parliamentary system.

A Government of national unity should not be intended to be long-lasting but intended to last only long enough to overcome a crisis. In times of crisis, Israel had a temporary alliance between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz  qualifying as a government of national unity. Another good example was South Africa's government of national unity that lasted from 1994 to 1996, with Nelson Mandela as the President and F. W. de Klerk as one of the Deputy Presidents. Other cabinet posts were distributed between the African National Congress, National Party, and Inkatha Freedom Party. It was a "transitional government" seen as a viable solution to the crisis in governance that the country was passing through. Given our current internal polarization and external challenges, a short period of transitional government or one of national unity would not be a bad option after all.

Whether or not a government of national unity is a real possibility in our nation depends on a subjective assessment of the extent of the national crisis and if one accepts to treat it as such. In such unfamiliar and extraordinary circumstances, a government of national unity could, I contend,  be able to sustain its legitimacy even without clear constitutionality.

Theoretically, everyone wants the people and the government to be one, but in practice, it turns out that each political movement pulls in its own direction, caring only about positions in the government and money. What should a government that works on the basis of genuine unity look like? Undeniably, anyone in power today knows that tomorrow they will no longer be, and therefore, they do not worry about what they leave after themselves. Their primal concern is to prove themselves right and their opponents wrong. Therefore, the worse it would be for the people and the country under the opposition party's leadership, the better it would be for the current leader.

I still have to see a  political party that works for the genuine unity of its people, its country, prioritizing the people's interests above its own, and agreeing to give up its respectful position in the government for the people's good. Therefore, there is no other way to create a national unity government except by those parties that indeed want unity and are able to give up their interests for the sake of unity.

A correct and positive government should consist of opposing forces that can communicate with each other and extract the correct results from their disagreements at every moment and on any issue. The unity of the government entails that everyone cares about the good of the country. There may be different opinions, heated debates, almost fights, but everyone should understand that only in the spirit of unification can something good be done for the country and its people. That is why a national-unity government must include opposing tendencies that are smart enough to know and understand how to move toward unity. By doing so, such a government would show the people an example of positive behaviour in which different people, even those hostile to each other, can rise above their contradictions for the sake of the property that is common to all: the country and its people.

Other than sports, it is only these bleak times we are going through that can create this sort of national unity.


Dr Mark Said is an advocate

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