An obsession with voting
Published: April 30, 2009 at 8:55am
When it comes to who should or shouldn’t vote we are sick. The Opposition rages in parliament because the government cannot guarantee that every single person on the electoral roll is eligible to vote, whatever that means. The government strikes off the electoral roll citizens of other EU member states who are resident here, claiming that they were told they had to register for each and every election.
One of the deputy leaders of the Labour Party, a former police inspector, does an Inspector Clouseau and hunts down people who, he claims, have sold their vote, been threatened as to how to vote, or been otherwise bullied into voting for X or Y. The whole thing ends in farce.
Jason Micallef proposes sending a ballot box to Cyprus so that the athletes in the Small Nations Games or whatever they are (sport bores me rigid) can vote on 6 June.
Even more hilariously, the government suggests amending the electoral law to allow people to vote on the eve of an election if they are going to be away on polling day. It won’t be long before the Opposition proposes another amendment allowing those who are going to be away on the eve of polling day to vote on the eve of the eve.
And then the government can propose another one, so that those who are away on the eve of the eve can vote on the eve of the eve of the eve. And before we know it, we can vote every day and have done with it.
This national neurosis is down to the fact that elections are so tightly fought. I can see where the paranoia might be appropriate in a general election that chooses the prime minister – and boy, will every vote count to ensure that we don’t get a Super One hack of very mediocre talents running the country in four years’ time.
But surely there is no room for neurosis in a European Parliament election? We can afford to relax a little and come across as a little less sick than we are: no ballot boxes in Cyprus, no residents struck off the roll, and please, no dead and dying on stretchers. Invariably, we are going to have the usual panic about cheap Air Malta flights and who uses them to come back to vote. Are they eligible? Are they not eligible?
I would say scrap the cheapo flights. Most people just use them to bum a holiday anyway, and Air Malta can’t afford the financial burden. If people are motivated enough to vote, then they are motivated enough to pay the full fare, which isn’t exactly crippling now.
With European Parliament elections, the argument against cheap Air Malta flights is even stronger. Air Malta operates them only to and from other EU member states, which means that those who are using the near-free flights have no need to come back and vote in Malta, because they can fulfill their duty by voting where they are.
The whole point of a European Parliament is that it is European. It doesn’t matter where you vote as long as you do so. To insist on returning to Malta to vote for Maltese candidates defeats the spirit of the exercise.
Something else that defeats the spirit of the exercise is our hostility to citizens of other EU member states who are resident here. Instead of looking at them as a potential market, the government and the Opposition, through the Electoral Commission, are stupidly crossing them off the list. The only party – and I struggle not to wrap the word in inverted commas – that is championing their cause is Alternattiva, which promotes itself as The Greens and so understands that it has a very good market right there.
The idea that citizens of other EU member states, who are resident here, should have to apply for inclusion in the electoral roll every five years is beyond ridiculous.
I can see no purpose to it other than harassment and the hope that many of them will fail to do so. Inclusion in the electoral roll should be automatic, just as it is for those of us who are Maltese. We do not have to apply for inclusion every five years. We are included by default, by virtue of our identity card and being over the age of 18.
Non-Maltese who live here have identity cards, too, and there is nothing to prevent the same system being used for those of them who are EU citizens.
The fact that it is not raises questions about the real motivation for all these obstacles being put in their path. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the government and the Opposition do not want their votes, which means that they are afraid of their votes. This is nonsense. Citizens of other EU member states present an opportunity to the political parties, not a grievous challenge.
Now the European Commission Representation and the European Parliament Office in Malta have written to the Electoral Commission demanding the re-inclusion of citizens of other EU member states, who are resident in Malta, in the electoral roll. Almost a thousand of them have been struck off.
What is most absurd about all this is that Malta is Information Technology Island and has a mandatory identity card system even for non-Maltese who are residents.
The authorities know at any given time and at no more than the push of a couple of buttons how many non-Maltese are officially resident in Malta, where they come from, what passport they hold, when they arrived, and their address here.
There is simply no excuse for striking them off, leaving them out, or informing them – and this is pathetic – through newspaper advertisements that they must re-register for the electoral roll. Is the Electoral Commission wholly incapable of sending out a thousand letters, if indeed it must insist on this re-registration?
Within a few short weeks of my son arriving in Amsterdam as a very temporary student – he is there for only five months – he found a personalised letter pushed through his door informing him in 27 European Union languages that he is eligible to vote in the Netherlands in the EP elections, and explaining where he must go and what he must do.
He did not apply to be on the Dutch electoral roll. He is not resident in the Netherlands. He is a student, and not even one who is enrolled full-time at that particular university as he is on an international programme. Yet the Dutch authorities found him immediately and informed him of his right to vote, explaining how he should go about it.
In other words, the Dutch chase down all potential voters whether they have official resident status or not, and jump through hoops to inform them of their rights and get them to that polling-booth. We do the opposite. We bend over backwards to make it as difficult as possible.
I think that just about sums up one major difference between the Netherlands and Malta. It’s a problem of outlook and attitude. We still think of the vote as a favour to be bestowed by the powers-that-be, as and when they wish to do so.
Now the Electoral Commission has announced – as though it is some kind of sop – that citizens of other EU member states who are resident in Malta and whose name does not appear on the electoral roll should “appeal for a revision so as to be able to vote”. The only reaction that sort of attitude will elicit is a suggestion that the Electoral Commission stuffs the vote somewhere unsavoury.
Why should people be made to work at obtaining the right to vote when they have it already, by dint of being EU citizens?
This article is published in The Malta Independent today.