MaltaToday | 13 April 2008 | The case of ‘His Honour’ among thieves

OPINION | Sunday, 13 April 2008

The case of ‘His Honour’ among thieves

Michael Falzon

Almost from the day following the publication of the election results five weeks ago, the Honourable Anglu Farrugia, who was shadow minister for justice in the last legislature, has repeatedly made allegations of possible wrong-doing in the electoral process.
His interview carried in this newspaper last week confirmed that he still thinks that the possibility is not as weird as one might think at first glance. So much so, that he even prepared a document containing all of three pages (A4? Double spacing? Wide margin? What font size?) that he has passed on to the Commissioner of Police, presumably giving him leads from where he might start an official investigation.
I can only comment on what Farrugia has said in the media, rather than on what he has written in his much publicised document. What actually fascinates me is his underlying perception that the MLP must have lost as a result of hanky-panky rather than as a result of failing to convince even those who were fed up with the PN government.
According to what Farrugia was reported to have told James Debono: “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…”
This is the stuff conspiracy theories are made of! This is not the case of some inane person casually using a monetary lure to persuade an equally inane voter to abstain from voting because the voter is presumably “on the other side”. No, that would have been too simplistic for Anglu. The way he explains it, sounds as if there was some big plot involving a donor or donors of two million Euros and a number of agents and runners, a plot about which only the Honourable Anglu Farrugia is aware of, even in this rumour-infested island. How come? Have these thieves decided to forgo their honour and blab all? This aspect alone already starts to stretch one’s credibility, although I cannot but admire Anglu’s creative imagination. As Albert Einstein once said, “The secret of creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
Farrugia also claims that proof of how one had voted was forthcoming from photos taken illegally by mobile phones, even though by now everybody knows that this “proof” is no way foolproof. As has already been said elsewhere, one cannot discount the possibility of a voter taking a photo of his ballot paper marked with a vote for X, after which he or she decides there was a “mistake” leading him to ask for another ballot paper that the voter then uses to mark his real vote… that he gives to Y! As Anglu should know, there is no limit to the inventiveness and the creativity of the criminal mind.
Anglu also complained about favours granted on the eve of the election. I wonder why he did not say anything about such practices in 1976, 1981 and 1987 elections, when he was still in the Police Force… or about more of these practices in the 1998 election when he was already an MP! But that must be the usual “two weights, two measures” syndrome that permanently afflicts the MLP.
I was particularly intrigued by the way that Anglu Farrugia described an elaborate vote-catching system that involved voters claiming to be illiterate when they were not. According to him, a voter who was given some pre-electoral favour would be asked to indicate the polling booth in which he/she was going to vote and then told to declare – as part of the deal – that he/she is illiterate and ask the electoral commissioners to vote put pencil to ballot paper on his or her behalf. Presumably, the electoral commissioner representing the PN in the booth would be in a position to verify whether the voter has declared his fake “illiteracy” and asked the commissioners to vote PN for him or her.
Now this is really interesting, because this is exactly what the MLP did in Gozo in the 1987 election. In that election there was a “swing” to Labour in Gozo and the PN at first could not understand how and why this happened. It happened because the MLP in power did exactly what Anglu Farrugia described – except that the Gozitan voter would not have been asked about the booth where he would be voting. The powers that be knew that already. Moreover, the MLP machine made sure that the favour is “delivered” by a party boy whom the voter would recognise as soon as he entered the polling room! Is this a case of “old habits die hard” or a case of accusing others with the past sins of others? A Freudian slip, perhaps?
After the experience of that election, held with the MLP having the power of incumbency and using this power in the most abusive way, the PN in government amended the electoral law. Today anybody claiming to be illiterate would have to declare this on oath and in the absence of such a sworn declaration the voter cannot receive any ‘assistance’ from the polling station commissioners. Why did Farrugia ignore this important amendment to the law and its origins?
What is even more interesting is the fact that Anglu Farrugia even hinted that these practices had been going on also in past elections! In previous elections, people were scared to speak out but, “this time around some of them decided to give me this information which involves not just one or two persons but many.”
How, may I ask, does Anglu Farrugia know that this sort for surreptitious wrong-doing had also been going on in previous elections when – according to him – people were scared to speak out?
I am no Sherlock Holmes and therefore I dare not say: “Elementary!” – as the famous fictional detective was fond of saying to Dr Watson. But as a former police official in the bad old Mintoff days, Anglu should be wary of slips – whether Freudian or otherwise.

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