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Title: Access to electoral rights : Malta
Authors: DeBono, Daniela
Keywords: Voting -- Malta
Electronic voting -- Malta
Suffrage -- Malta
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: EUDO Citizenship Observatory
Citation: DeBono, D. (2013). Access to electoral rights : Malta. Access to Electoral Rights Report. European University Institute, Florence.
Abstract: Since gaining independence from the British Empire in 1964, Malta has had a very restrictive voting policy. Voter enfranchisement is based on three pillars: citizenship, residence and age. The only exceptions to this rule, introduced in 2004 as a result of EU accession, are the electoral rights granted to EU citizens at local and European Parliament elections. Prior to this, British citizens resident in Malta had already been granted Local Council electoral rights in 1993, when Local Council elections started being held. This latter ‘exception’ can be attributed to the strong ties between the two countries due to the historical colonial relationship, and by the mere fact that the British expat community is the largest foreign group in Malta. Voting is deeply entrenched in Maltese political culture. An indication of this lies in the consistently high voter turnout at national elections – 96 per cent in 2003 and 93 per cent in 2008. This is the highest for non-mandatory elections worldwide, often superseding even countries where voting is mandatory. The political scientist William Hirzy attributes this high voter turnout to the intense competition between the two main political parties, and the results are always very close; the national elections in 2008 were the closest, won by a mere 1,600 votes. Indeed, elections are preceded by aggressive campaigns, fraught with a confrontational style of electioneering. Loyalties to the two main political parties are ‘strong, stable and rooted in social and family backgrounds.’ This signifies, and is a result of, what the European studies scholar Michelle Cini has described as the ‘extremely high stakes at general elections.’ Interestingly, in spite of the fact that Malta uses a version of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system which allows voters to cross party lists when selecting their candidates, in practice voters tend to vote per party. This shows the paramount importance of party allegiance for the Maltese. With such a deeply pervasive political culture, it is positively. The electoral rights of foreigners, in general, have not been a major topic of discussion in Maltese politics and society. Indeed, the question of enfranchising foreigners is rarely critically addressed by Maltese politicians, major institutions or Maltese society. Alternatives to the present system are hardly ever mentioned, except in some cases by ‘Alternattiva Demokratika’, the Green Party, a very small party which has only had limited success in a few Local Council elections. Even EU citizens, who have been enfranchised in Local Council and European Parliament elections since 2004, did not managed to stir a significant debate when they encountered difficulties in accessing their electoral rights. This demonstrates the inflexibility towards new alternatives and the reluctance to consider foreign voters on an equal par with Maltese voters. The paucity of debates in this field is interrupted, albeit on a minor scale, by two issues: the question of in-country voting together with the public expense of subsidising flights for eligible voters abroad, and the incident when around 19,000 EU resident citizens (constituting the vast majority) were struck off the Electoral Register in the 2009 EP elections. The first issue is a long-standing debate on the current and exclusive policy of in-country voting. This is a discussion which flares up around each election and is specifically prompted by the practice of the last two decades of offering subsidised flights to Maltese citizens resident in Malta but temporarily abroad. This practice is almost perceived as an entitlement or a right by many who feel that it ensures their access to the right to vote. It is, however, a costly practice when one takes into consideration the increasing number of Maltese people abroad and the newfound difficulty of proving that the minimum residence requirement has been met since Malta acceded to the EU and the Schengen area. In addition, one could also argue that the residency requirement is out-dated in the context of EU membership since it clashes with freedom of movement which is one of the fundamental pillars of the EU. The second issue which has arisen over the last years has to do with EU resident citizens’ access to electoral rights in Malta. This had to do with the implementation of EU law and apparently procedural issues. EU resident citizens complain of discriminatory practices, that they were struck off the Electoral Register, and were therefore unable to vote in European Parliament elections. This issue has been championed by the Green Party, the smallest and ‘youngest’ party which has never managed to elect representatives in Parliament. The fact that this issue, and other issues regarding foreigners in Malta, are championed by the Green Party, and not generally by the main parties, is significant in itself and is to no small degree motivated by a vested interest in bringing about change to the traditional political culture.
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