The Malta Independent 6 October 2022, Thursday
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Malta’s new parliamentary season

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 12 May 2022, 07:15 Last update: about 6 months ago

Malta’s new parliamentary season, the first in the 2022-7 legislature has commenced. It is populated by the largest parliament ever. As was the case with the previous two legislatures, it is characterised by a considerable Labour majority, and this time around there are more women than in previous legislatures, courtesy of the new gender-quota reform, though there are still more male parliamentarians.

In this article I am proposing three guidelines which I believe can help improve the procedures and processes within Malta’s parliament. These are respect, deliberation, and evidence.

Respect is a basic foundation of a liberal democracy. It is only natural to have parliamentarians with their own political affiliations, personal histories, and narratives. These are sometimes seen as absolutes which are non-reconcilable. Here, the ‘other’, most often representing the competing political party, may be depicted as being essentially ‘bad’, ‘corrupt’, ‘stupid’ and so forth. Malta is not short of discourse which has often portrayed persons from opposing political camps with such negative and spiteful terminology. On the other hand, one can consider political differences through a respectful approach. Instead of considering the other to be the ‘enemy,’ they could be considered to be an ‘adversary’ who is playing within an established set of rules and norms.  The latter approach, which I favour, seems to have been preferred by the electorate in the 2022 national elections, at least in various instances. I strongly believe that in Malta there is a silent majority of voters who do not appreciate the hatred-ridden narratives which are often propagated across the media sphere and which make sensational headlines and photo opportunities. A respectful approach in parliament can help it discuss substance, rather than indulge in personal attacks and other toxic discourse.

This takes us to the second guideline I would like to propose: Deliberation. A respectful approach would entail communication which is multi-directional. It would involve both voicing one’s position and listening sensitively to others. During the process, different views may  at times come closer to each other, possibly resulting in win-win resolutions or policy compromise which is as representative as possible. Here, I would emphasise that deliberation should be characterised by less long-winded rhetoric which is quite common in parliament, and more dialogue, not only among parliamentarians, but also within policy committees in all areas, and not just a select few. The parliamentary administration could ensure that such committees are not only made up of parliamentarians and those who have strong media, social or political networks, but also those whose practices in society are less visible, voiceless, or less connected. The procedures of such committees should encourage dialogue. This goes beyond the practice of different voices talking across each other.

A deliberative approach can, in turn, help articulate evidence-based policy making. Parliamentarians have the legitimate duty to speak on behalf of their constituents as they are democratically elected. But this does not necessarily mean that the respective parliamentarian is an expert in all fields they discuss. One doesn’t even expect parliamentarians to be experts in everything. Very often, self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who claim to have solutions to everything, are quite the opposite. On the other hand, one would expert parliamentarians to be equipped with evidence before voting on a matter. In this regard, it would make sense to ensure that all parliamentarians, and not just Ministers, can benefit from scholarly, professional, and technical assistance. This can be carried out at various levels. For example, students in various disciplines can have accredited work, internships, or work schemes within parliament. Graduates can be engaged in various policy-making fields. Academics can give expert advice, coordinate research, and so forth. Here, greater cooperation with the University of Malta, and its respective structures could be beneficial. Besides, parliament should also cooperate in a more structured and transparent manner with other stakeholders in different fields during policy deliberation. Again, it would be beneficial if all parliamentarians, including those within the Opposition, benefit from such evidence-based assistance.

Respect, deliberation, and evidence can therefore help strengthen Malta’s parliament. Such guidelines require both a sense of commitment, but also resources. By all means, let us invest further in our democratic structures.

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the University of Malta

www.michaelbriguglio.com

 

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