A Mandate to Deceive – Charlene Giordmaina
Let us say a general election has just been announced and you are weighing your options as to which political party, or parties, you will be voting for when you cast your vote on election day. On what basis are you going to decide your vote? One element, amongst others, which should always play an important part when making such a decision would be to analyse what the respective political parties are promising to the electorate. Such promises come in the form of an electoral manifesto.
The late British Labour politician and former Cabinet Minister Peter Shore once described electoral manifestos as “a party’s contract with the electorate”, and that is what a manifesto is all about; it is about a political party entering into a contract with the electorate that, should it be elected to government, it will adhere to and ensure the implementation of those specific promises. An electoral manifesto is not just a piece of paper to make the political party look attractive and appealing to the electorate, it is much more than that. Irrespective of whether the majority of the electorate bases its vote on that manifesto or not, the party elected to government must ensure that it implements the promises made in that manifesto, nothing more, nothing less.
The rationale behind the political manifesto submitted to the public prior to a general election is clear – each respective political party officially declares what its agenda and priority areas in a number of fields shall be, should that political party be elected to government. Prior to the 2017 General Election, both parties presented their respective electoral manifesto. Let’s take the Labour Party’s electoral manifesto – LGBTIQ rights, decriminalisation of cannabis and prostitution, as well as the introduction of cremation were mentioned black on white under the civil rights section. One has every right to disagree with these proposals, but one of course cannot say that these proposals did not form part of the Labour Government’s agenda. The same can be said for the Nationalist Party.
One topic, however, which both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party electoral manifesto failed to address is abortion. So how can we say that the government, or the opposition, and much less so, an individual member of Parliament, has an electoral mandate to introduce abortion in Malta when this is not what the public voted for? To make matters worse, the decriminalisation of abortion bill was presented in Parliament by a member of parliament that first was elected to Parliament as part of a political coalition between PN and the short-lived PD, and then later resigned to become an independent MP. This goes against the principle of good governance.
In addition, abortion was not just on any electoral manifesto, but up till a very few weeks prior to the 2017 general election, both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party were insisting that abortion was not on the agenda.
In fact, in the first of a series of political debates organised by the Broadcasting Authority during the 2017 electoral campaign, Forza Nazzjonali, which was being represented by amongst others Dr. Marlene Farrugia herself as leader of PD, declared that it is categorically against abortion, because the parties (i.e. the parties constituting Forza Nazzjonali, these being the Nationalist Party and the Democratic Party led by Marlene Farrugia) believed in the sanctity of life. Having bound herself by this electoral pledge Dr. Marlene Farrugia would be shortchanging the very essence of being truthful to your electorate and outrightly violating any sense of political decency and honesty with the electorate. Dr Farrugia cannot decide to change track simply because it now suits her political agenda to do so.
The very least an electorate can expect from the political parties and representatives it elects to Parliament is transparency and clarity as to what their political agenda is. Promising one thing because at the time it might not be so popular to promise otherwise, and then doing the exact opposite a few years down the line during the same legislature just because you might feel that that topic is now more popular, or just because you are attempting to salvage your political future, is unfounded. This clearly shows that no political party, much less so an individual MP, has an electoral mandate to introduce abortion in Malta at present.