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Opinion • September 05 2004


Yesterday a sizeable group of Attard residents gathered in the blistering heat to be counted before the cameras. They were seeking to bring to public notice their objection to the construction of a large petrol station with carwash and ample garage space along the Rabat Road by Mt Carmel Hospital.
The development would take Attard a few hundred meters closer to Rabat. It is a frontier fight. With 2 percent of arable land vanishing under bricks every year it is a question of house to house fighting. Every square meter lost is lost forever. Every square meter lost means more will be lost next to it. The Maltese find that they are fighting a system which is heavily biased in favour of development. There is urgency, almost desperation in every dispute about land use. The many too often lose out to the few.
In this case the press conference was attended by representatives of all three political parties. This is a new political development. Starting with the protests over the proposal to set up a cement works, we have witnessed the creation of transversal alliances formed by residents, local councils, NGOs and political parties in a number of cases. The Mnajdra landfill proposal was defeated by one such alliance in which Jeffrey Pullicino Orland campaigned counter to the PN government’s policy with the other two political parties, NGOs, local councils and ad hoc residents’ groups. It worked.
The Golf course saga has had another such by-product. Never before has such a vast alliance of stakeholders ever come together to object to a proposed development. For the first time the objectors have had the explicit blessing of the Church in their efforts to defend the countryside. The alliance is so strong that the Prime Minister has courted defeat again just as he had done over the Mnajdra Landfill issue.
The same will happen following a rallying call by David Agius to object to the siting of the Trade Fair at the former Flower Power premises in Attard. He will find considerable support from a population which has lived through an unprecedented destruction of the countryside. In the last 50 years Malta has lost more open space than was ever taken up in the previous 5,000. At last something is beginning to give.
It is also a new political frontier eroding the rigid party demarcation lines. Until very recently it was unthinkable for anybody from one political party to appear to cooperate with anyone from any other. In 1989 The Greens called the first all-party pavement political discussions. It was phenomenal in a country still in the throes of political violence.
All party political media discussions have since become commonplace and in the last two years we have even witnessed such developments from the Broadcasting Authority which organized all-party debates for the first time. The single issue alliances take the process a major step further.
The Mnajdra landfill took Jeffrey Pullicino Orland into confrontation with his party and surviving. The MLP is not as tolerant of dissent and has the advantage of not being in government but the new style of politics is catching on and we will eventually see something of the sort break out of Labour too. PN disarray and the example of PN dissidents militates heavily against the my-party-right-or-wrong attitude right across the political spectrum.
With the Greens transversal politics is a way of life. Freed of majoritarian ambitions we are able to steer a linear path which leads us to agree now with one side and then with another. It is confusing to those who think in the old fashioned bi-polar straitjacket but for more and more people it is becoming clear that Greens have always been this way. They have always been themselves and the alliances they form are evidence of a unique political consistency.
What has yet to be seen is whether the transversal alliances will be exploited by the majoritarian parties to contain and defuse dissidents or whether the experience will give the Maltese a greater political freedom. For the majoritarian participants there will come a time when they will be obliged to choose. Their parties will coerce them into a dilemma. At that point their dissidence will be put in the scales by their supporters. It will become clear to all whether they have been sincere in their protests, how far they can be loyal to their beliefs. A return to discipline could be as dangerous as outright rebellion.
Time and again dissidents from majoritarian parties have been given the choice to shape up or ship out. The exiles from the Labour party are well known. Those from the PN have been out in the cold for many years and many have faded from view. There will be a new crop soon enough. Maltese politics is on the move at last and the action is only for those who will put principle before blind loyalty and personal survival.
My guess is that the majoritarian parties will keep dissidents on a string and hope to draw them in and digest them as they have always done before. My guess is that something fundamental has changed and that they will not succeed as easily as they have done before.

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