MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | Where angels don’t fear to tread

INTERVIEW | Sunday, 06 April 2008

Where angels don’t fear to tread

True to his outspoken and mercurial character, Labour’s Anglu Farrugia promises to leave no stone unturned in making life hell for the re-elected Nationalist government.

Anglu Farrugia is still undecided whether to contest the post of leader or deputy leader of the party; but he does not mince his words. As leader of the MLP, he would not accept any pairing agreement with the PN in parliament: a serious handicap for a government with a sheer one-seat majority.
While promising more fire and brimstone from the Opposition, he wants more openness in Labour emerging as the first Labour MP to back George Abela’s proposal to give members a say in the leadership race. And if he does not contest for the MLP’s leadership, Farrugia will not give up on his personal crusade to expose vote-buying allegations before the last election.
All this might be music to the ears of Labour diehards, but will it help Labour to reach out to moderate voters?
Only last week, Farrugia presented a three-page document with the names of persons involved in a vote-buying racket. Coming in the wake of an election won by a handful of votes, Farrugia’s allegations are potentially explosive. But if Farrugia’s revelations fall flat, Farrugia’s credibility as a responsible politician is at stake. In the absence of proof sowing doubts on the most sacred moment of a country’s democratic life is outright irresponsible. Farrugia concurs, insisting that he only spoke because he had evidence of irregularities.
“I acted responsibly. I delivered what I promised when I first spoke in public about this issue. I handed the evidence to the police commissioner,” Farrugia replies.
One thing for sure: Farrugia does not hide away his satisfaction at hitting at the political adversary. Referring to the vote-buying allegation he claims that he is “enjoying doing this to the Nationalist government.”
“These things have been happening for a long time but never in such a systematic way,” claims the maverick MP.
Surely he has already dug the trenches by opening a personal front against the new government while the rest of the opposition is licking its wounds. But is Farrugia simply seeking cheap publicity by appealing to diehard Labour delegates on the eve of a leadership contest, which he is still contemplating to contest? Farrugia denies this charge of political opportunism.
“Those who know me are aware how outspoken I am. I have no strings attached. I am not tied to any commercial or other interests and I always speak my mind. I am making this clear. If I decide that I won’t contest for the leadership, I will still press on with the vote rigging issue and I will still speak on the favours granted at the very last moment to win votes.”
But can he give any proof that the PN is responsible for the buying of votes? “I am not saying that the PN was involved. I am only saying that votes were traded so that people would not vote for the MLP,” replies Farrugia.
If proved, the allegation that a fully-fledged criminal racket was engaged in buying votes to the detriment of the opposition party would shake confidence in Malta’s democratic institutions. Farrugia is fully aware of the consequences of his actions.
“Since the election was won by 1,500, this means that the party would have won with an extra 700 votes. This means that if 10 votes in every locality were bought, the election would have been won by the MLP. I am not saying that this happened and so far am not disputing that the PN won the election.”
By merely insinuating that the election result was subverted by vote rigging, Farrugia is also gambling his own political future if the police do not find the smoking gun.
Surely his depiction of the way the system works is more typical of a banana republic than of a country, which prides itself on being a fully-fledged democracy in the European Union.
“The system works like this. One would need one or two million Euros to buy votes. This money is divided among a number of agents. Each agent engages the services of runners – the foot soldiers who actually buy the votes. The runners visit bars frequented by drug addicts and people who are more interested in having some cash
than in voting…”
Farrugia claims that he is well versed on how elections are rigged at an international level.
“I have an experience in monitoring elections both through my experience in OSCE and the European Commission. I have observed elections in Palestine and in Zambia and I know how these things work.”
He even claims that both the OSCE and the European Commission “have showed great interest” in his revelation and that he was “informally contacted” by these organisations.
Addressing a press conference last week, Farrugia implicated two former members of the previous cabinet in his allegations of vote trading. “In the three page which I had presented to the commissioner, two ministers are mentioned,” he confirms.
But Farrugia refuses to divulge any more information on the two former cabinet members. “I think at this stage it is more prudent to allow the commissioner to do his work. What is sure is that the commissioner had reports on these two persons from another source.”
But were they involved in buying votes? “I am not saying that they were directly involved in buying votes. The report talks of both vote buying and on favours granted on the eve of the election.”
Farrugia claims that he was informed of the abuses immediately after exiting the counting hall on Monday morning. “Had I known before I would have reported this immediately.”
But isn’t he giving false hopes to Labourites by alluding that their victory was stolen by foul play, rather than by the party’s fundamental weakness to convince the electorate?
“This is a fundamental issue even if one ineffectual vote was bought. I am not saying that we lost because votes were bought. Even if our party had won by 1,500 votes I would have been far from happy. After 20 years fighting in opposition I would have expected more.”
Farrugia claims that different methods were employed to buy votes. “Some people were paid to destroy their vote against payment. In this way votes were deducted from the opposition party’s tally. Votes were also traded on condition that proof is submitted that the vote was really cast for the PN.”
According to Farrugia proof was submitted through photographic or videographic of images taken by voters through their mobile phone while voting.
He even claims to be in possession of a video as evidence of the irregularities. “Yes I have a video… I have a video showing someone voting for the PN.”
Farrugia refuses to reveal more details on this video saying that it is up to the police to investigate.
Apart from photographic evidence Farrugia denounces the existence of another more elaborate system through, which the vote of persons claiming to be illiterates were checked by those involved in the vote buying racket.
According to Farrugia persons trading their votes for money or favours were asked to state in which polling booth they were voting, something which is written on every voting document. On the basis of this information the runners were informed where these individual voters were going to vote.
“For example let us say that Angelo was going to vote in Gronier Street in polling booth number 405. Upon entering the polling boot, Angelo declares that he needs assistance because he is illiterate. In this way those involved would have know that Angelo voted for the PN. There were many illiterates in this election,” claims Farrugia.
Farrugia claims that votes were not only traded for money but also for favours.
“In it’s last few weeks or days the previous Nationalist government, instead of serving as a caretaker which does nothing but pay government wages, they issued building permits, allocated housing units and changed contracts from definite ones to indefinite ones.”
He even claims to have evidence that people were even given the keys for a housing unit on the same day of the election.
Farrugia does not make a sharp distinction between actual vote buying and the old tradition practiced by both parties of dishing out favours on the eve of an election.
“In a free election, one cannot issue executive favours,” insists Farrugia. He also promises that he is still collecting evidence on this case.
“So far I have passed a lot of information to the police but when they exhaust the evidence I have given them so far, I have something else to give them.”
Farrugia claims that in previous elections people were scared to speak out.
“This time round some of them decided to give me this information which involves not just one or two persons but many.”
But will these people be willing to testify in a court of law? “Now everything is in the hands of the police commissioner. What I promise is that this will not stop here. Irrespective of what the Nationalist government says on the progress of this investigation, I will continue raising this issue. I have a duty towards the country. You can’t play with democracy, as democracy is something which is completely free.”
Angelo Farrugia is still undecided on whether to follow the footsteps of Evarist Bartolo, Joseph Muscat, George Abela, Marie Louise Coleiro and Michael Falzon by launching his own bid for the leadership of the party.
“These are all valid persons. I have no problem working with any of them. My decision will be based on the party’s interests.”
One thing is certain; he is seriously considering whether to contest for the post of leader or the post of deputy leader for parliamentary affairs. He claims that he is still waiting for the report analysing the reasons for the party’s defeat.
“If the report indicates that the style of leadership of leadership required by the party is different from what I can offer, I will submit to the party’s best interest and desist from contesting. But if the party requires a certain type of leader and a deputy leader with a different character, for example someone who is more mature, I would consider contesting for deputy leader for parliamentary affairs.”
In 1998 Farrugia contested Dr George Vella for the post of deputy leader for parliamentary affairs, mustering 24% of the party delegates. In 2003 he set his eyes on the leadership, getting 26% in his bid to oust Alfred Sant. After failing twice, why doesn’t he give up?
“On both occasions I was contesting against the incumbents. Nobody in the PN ever dared contest Eddie Fenech Adami or Guido De Marco. I still had a substantial following when contesting against the incumbents. Things are now different as everyone is starting the race from the same position.”
Farrugia agrees with George Abela that MLP members should have a say in choosing the new leader and his deputy leaders. “I have full trust in the delegates and I think that they should have a say, but members should also vote in the contest.”
He proposes a mixed system through which the MLP’s 900 delegates would be given the same 50% “weighting” in the result as the party’s 40,000 members. In this way delegates would still have more say than members.
“In this way democracy will be enhanced. The election would be more tranquil because delegates would act more responsibly as they would be aware that their vote is equivalent to that of 40 normal party members.”
Alfred Sant and Charles Mangion have shouldered the blame for the defeat by renouncing their leadership posts. Should general secretary Jason Micallef and deputy leader Michael Falzon do the same thing?
“One should be careful. I agree that everyone should share the blame for the defeat but should the whole executive and administration resign? Charles Mangion chose to resign and as a party we agreed to appoint him as temporary leader until the contest is decided. Michael Falzon decided otherwise. If I was in his position as Alfred Sant’s deputy leader, I would have resigned.”
What about Jason Micallef? “If I was secretary general who had a very crucial role, I would have resigned ages ago.”
Farrugia outlines an inclusive vision for the party. “We have never solved one fundamental problem. Over the past years Labour dissidents no longer belonged to the party. We need these people back.”
Rather than focusing on winning over non-Labourites, Farrugia’s first priority would be that of winning back disgruntled Labourites. “Labourites created Super One TV and Radio through their own money but it remains distant from the same Labourites. We have abandoned voluntary work. Under Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and the first few years of Alfred Sant a lot of work was done by volunteers. When the party relied on voluntary work, it was strong. When this voluntary base shrunk for various reasons the party started depending on private financing and problems started.”
Farrugia, who describes himself in his own website as someone who delivers “ferocious speeches”, might appeal to Labour militants but how can he appeal to the middle of the road voters?
“By ‘ferocious’ I only meant that I give fiery speeches. In reality I am a moderate. I hate extremism.”
He also readily admits that the MLP’s major problem in the election was one of credibility.
“We had a problem of credibility. When we proposed a policy we appeared superficial. The Nationalists were better when they proposed their policies. We were not prepared to give satisfactory answers when we faced questions on our policies… For example when we propose to halve the electricity surcharge, we should also have explained how we would make up for the shortfall in government funds.”
Farrugia also thinks that the party’s zero tolerance on corruption stand backfired.
“The Maltese people do not want zero tolerance. During house visits people kept asking me; would the government investigate us for petty things? I am disappointed as I am outspoken in fighting corruption outright. For some people asking for a small favour for a garage or a washroom is not bad. They don’t care much if there is a little corruption in the country.”
What does being a Labourite mean today? “It means having an active social conscience. Unlike the MLP, the PN does not care much about issues like the cost of living. A month after the elections, prices are already rising. This is a fundamental difference. Controlling inflation, strengthening education and fostering economic growth should be our priorities in the future.”
While insisting that the European Union is a closed chapter for Labour, a Labour government would also strengthen relations with China, India and the United States.
Farrugia criticises the PN for neglecting Malta’s relationship with the USA.
But have not relations with the USA improved after Malta’s decision to join Partnership for Peace with which Labour disagreed?
“This is the American way of doing this. The PN succumbed to this. With us in power the Americans would not have behaved like this. I have a very good relationship with the US. Even Alfred Sant was very close to the US government.”
While criticising the way PfP membership was imposed without any consultation with the opposition, Farrugia does not exclude it .
“As long as peace keeping missions are approved by the United Nations, there is no problem with our participation in PFP missions. The problem was the arrogant way the PN imposed this on us. Now how can they dare ask us to reach an agreement on pairing arrangements in parliament?”
With a one-seat majority in parliament, in view of its international commitments, the PN government’s survival would depend on reaching pairing agreements with the Opposition. Before even announcing his candidature, Angelo Farrugia takes one bold but divisive commitment.
“If I become leader, the Nationalist Party will have a major problem. I will make their life difficult… Personally I would never agree to a pairing agreement with the Nationalists. Back in 1996 the Nationalists made our life hell, that is what we should do now.”

Any comments?
If you wish your comments to be published in our Letters pages please click button below.
Please write a contact number and a postal address where you may be contacted.



MaltaToday News 
09 April 2008

Children’s Commissioner in talks over Lourdes Home abuse

Gonzi maintains wall of silence as spring hunting tensions grow

Development NGOs call on Malta to publish aid figures

Alec Mizzi resigns from Malta Enterprise

Hollywood star Rachel Weisz decamps to Marsaxlokk

Fenech refutes euro ‘price hike’ that ditched Malta for South Africa

Labour leadership election open to paid-up members

MHRA report healthy bookings despite Sterling erosion

Lija local council objects to ODZ factory

‘Premature to take a stand on pairing’ – Charles Mangion


Go to MaltaToday
recent issues:
06/03/08 | 02/04/08
30/03/08 | 26/03/08
23/03/08 | 19/03/08
16/03/08 | 12/03/08
09/03/08 | 05/03/08
02/03/08 | 27/02/08
24/02/08 | 20/02/08
17/02/08 | 13/02/08
10/02/08 | 06/02/08
03/02/08 | 30/01/08
27/01/08 | 23/01/08
20/01/08 | 16/01/08
13/01/08 | 09/01/08
06/01/08 | 02/01/08
30/12/07 | 23/12/07
19/12/07 | 16/12/07
12/12/07 | 09/12/07
05/12/07 | 02/12/07
28/11/07 | 25/11/07
21/11/07 | 18/11/07

14/11/07 | 11/11/07
07/11/07 | 04/11/07

Copyright © MediaToday Co. Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016, Malta, Europe
Managing editor Saviour Balzan | Tel. ++356 21382741 | Fax: ++356 21385075 | Email