MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | Labour’s way

NEWS | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Labour’s way

Following its third electoral defeat and the irrevocable resignation of Alfred Sant, the leadership election of the Malta Labour Party offers an opportunity for the party to turn a new leaf and appoint a leader capable of widening the electoral base of the party.
In choosing its new leader, common sense and a bout of political realism would dictate that utmost importance is given to choosing a leader who can win the trust of sectors of our society, especially of the upwardly mobile middle class. This can best be achieved by choosing a leader who appeals to the ever-growing class of floating voters, which inevitably decides the outcome of each election.
Certain decisions taken to date have been positive, including the dignified and immediate resignation of Alfred Sant, who on three occasions failed to appeal to the floating voter. Also, the decision to allow up to 5 June to hold the leadership race was apposite, as it allows time for the necessary soul-searching, and also does not completely rule out the possibility of putting the vote to party members: a proposal which seems to be gaining internal consensus. This decision, if implemented, will place the Labour party among a growing number of progressive European parties who feel that by widening the Electoral College, the democratic credentials of the leader will be enhanced, as has been the Italian and indeed American experience. The perceived reluctance of the ruling clique to widen the Electoral College seems to be motivated more by an obsession to block the possible election of a certain candidate, rather than by safeguarding the interests of the party. To add fuel to the fire, there is a possibility that George Abela may not be able to contest since he is not a delegate; this beggars belief and is further evidence of the Labour Party’s tendency to shoot itself in the foot.
This newspaper believes in as open and transparent a contest as possible, serving to allow the party to look beyond its glass walls, creating space for new ideas, policies and opinions to be voiced which can help invigorate the party in its attempt to win public support. The blueprint for success consists in pressing the right buttons. For this reason all persons directly involved in the election campaign, and who were part of the losing team, should offer their resignation. This includes both deputy party leaders, one of whom has correctly stated that he will not be contesting, and the secretary general who, as campaign manager and chief executive of the party during the last years, must take responsibility for the defeat. This clean slate will help nurture the perception that the party is prepared to change and turn over a new leaf.
The contest should also be open to full public scrutiny by means of an open and transparent contestation in the full glare of the media spotlight. Accordingly, we fail to understand the wisdom of the decision taken by Joe Falzon, chairman of the internal electoral commission, at the behest of the so-called “Vigilance and Disciplinary Board”, not to allow the contestants to participate in open media debates, or give interviews to the media. Admittedly the party now appears to have rethought this decision: a wise move, for any attempt to muzzle candidates – and, worse still, to disqualify them if the ban is breached – can only be described as sheer madness. It was an undemocratic strategy, clearly aimed at giving an advantage to the persons who have already declared their candidacy, and also to keep the choice within the ruling clique, thereby guaranteeing the future job security of full-time party officials. This is exactly what Labour should not be doing, as it reinforces the perception in the minds of the floating voter that the election of the leader is being seen by the party as just an internal affair. This is not the case at all, as what is at stake is the choice of the alternative Prime Minister. In all fairness, however, the contestants have already objected to this media ban, and the party administration has correctly withdrawn it. More remains to be done, however, if the MLP wishes to dispel the image of a draconian party permanently out of touch with the electorate.
The best interests of the Labour Party dictate that the Electoral College is widened to include its members and that all contestants are given an opportunity to express and to be probed on their views on all issues of national importance. The MLP must act as a mainstream European social democratic party, ensuring a level playing field in an open and transparent contestation. Then, possibly, we might have a new beginning after all.

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