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Monday, November 26, 2012

Renewing the Political Contract


I hesitate to write about political issues for a number of reasons. One is, of course, that anything I say risks being interpreted in one way or another and I don’t want to be given a political label. Second, the fact that, as a visually impaired person, I am forced to vote in front of what is called an “electoral commission” means that, in a way, my vote is an open secret. Don’t get me wrong - I do trust the representatives of the electoral commission to a point. Besides, members of the commission are bound by law to keep my vote a secret.who are bound by law to keep my vote a secret but everyone knows human nature and how easy it is for people to break that trust for ulterior motives. 
I am hopeful, however, that with Malta’s ratification of the United Nations  Convention Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), this situation will be rectified since Article 29 of the same convention sets out to guarantee the right to participate in public and political life (including the right to a secret vote). Indeed, as the implementation of the UNCRPDin Malta goes underway, our country should redress this situation of inequality in voting as the issue of secret voting is one of the areas identified as needing change (according to this press release
However, this isn’t just something we, disabled people, will benefit from. True, all of us who are blind or have a visual impairment, those of us who due to a physical impairment can’t use our hands or have a print disability are bound to benefit. But this right will also provide people who cannot read or write, for example, with the chance to vote in secret. Regrettably, I am also aware that certain disabled people, including people with an intellectual impairment or those with mental health conditions are often denied the right to vote altogether.  
I admit that I feel anxious when it gets to the voting season. The fact is, as things stand, I know that I must reveal my political affiliations once again to another group of perfect strangers. Trustworthy, perhaps, but still strangers. While I don’t find any problem with sharing my political views with those I trust the most, I’m not comfortable with revealing my positions to others (whoever they may be). The fact   that most citizens can vote in secret means that, come election time, I am unequal when it comes to the secret vote. Moreover, I do fear the consequences  of revealing my political views to members of the electoral commission as they are also    political representatives who may put party or personal interests over my individual freedoms. I am concerned that certain people might not respect my political opinions and might hold my political beliefs against me resulting in unhappy repercussions.
Having said that, any political beliefs I might have doesn’t mean I think  of  disability in terms of party politics. Indeed, I firmly believe that disability is an issue that shouldn’t be politicised in the sense that disability  should never become victim to partisan political exigencies. In addition, it would be irresponsible for me to bring party politics into this issue - especially since I became  involved in public life. 
However, I also feel that, even if I won’t take a position in favour of some party or another, I am still entitled to comment on what, I believe, is wrong with politics in general and in the local context in particular and what changes I would like to see in contemporary politics. I want to make it clear from the onset that I don’t claim to have any level of political expertise but the ideas I present below are based on my relatively short experience and reflections on the issues of politics and democracy.     

Respecting the Principles of Democracy

Indeed, two principles that I feel are essential to ensure a true democracy are equality before the law and freedom of expression. However, the latter principle is inseparable from the right of every citizen to equality and freedom of expression. Thus, it’s debatable whether a far right party which campaigns to deny those it judges to be ‘a threat to national identity’ from their rights and dignity have a place in a true democracy if their campaign incites intolerant or hateful conduct. In addition, the secret vote can be seen as a way to allow citizens to express their personal opinions without fear of discrimination or intimidation. 
Now, I will try to move from an overview of the principles, I believe, are important foundations of democracy to how, in practical terms, politicians should apply them in their political careers. As I already said, these are only my suggestions on what I observed.

The Need for Constructive Dialogue

It’s important that politicians:
  • •In a debate, listen to each other.
  • •Listen to each other.
  • •Allow each party to develop an argument in reasonable time.
  • •Listen to the people out there.
It is regrettable that debates sometimes end up like shouting contests or meeting the public becomes more of an event where politicians seem to be fishing for voters...

The Need forCooperation

I regret that sometimes it appears as if politicians live in different countries, if not planets. While it may be understandable for each politician to have partisan interests, their duty remains to serve the whole population and not just party followers. 
Indeed, politicians of different political views should do their best to serve the people as they have been elected by us, the voters. Any successes and failures a country faces will affect all of us, including them. We remain, as a people, interdependent and, thus,  should be united as a people. It’s unhealthy for certain politicians or staunch party followers to take pleasure when an opposing party fails in some way. If the country fails, it’s just a lose-lose situation. No one will benefit.

The Need forReconciliation

I can’t emphasise enough of the importance of fostering a politics that fosters reconciliation. We might not agree on ideological grounds and we should value our principles. However, there’s space where we can reach a compromise and put a genuine effort to find a middle ground that will be of benefit to the whole rather than to just a few. This isn’t implying that we should forget the past as if nothing happened for the past can offer invaluable knowledge and insight and help both avoid repeating past mistakes and making sure that future plans are directed by experience.

The Need for More  Political Pluralism

Our political system has been largely influenced by the British system following years of colonisation. Consequently, we have largely retained a two-party system. While this system has worked well, it does have some downside to it. The fact is that a two-party system tends to polarise parties rather than encourage more healthy debate and exchange of ideas. Political pluralism shouldn’t just remain confined to media (as it is at present) but should also be reflected in parliament or in the parliamentary or similar institutions where national decisions are taken.
More voices representing fresh voices can help to encourage a healthier debate and, in way, help ensure that majority parties are kept in check. However, whether a country’s citizens will be ready to elect people representing a third voice is in their own hands. More voices, of course, may create problems in the running of a country but there can be much value in having greater diversity within the decision making process. . 

My Final Appeals...

To conclude this entry, I feel the need to make two appeals that, first, gather the main points I tried to make in this entry, and second, emphasise the importance of every citizen’s to participate in the renewal of the political contract based on the principles of democracy. Thus:    
First, I appeal to local politicians and all those who are involved in politics to respect the principles of democracy. Not to put party or personal interests before the people. To remember that we, the people, have elected you and we expect you to serve us responsibly and with integrity. We also expect you to practice your profession skilfully, including ensuring you engage in constructive dialogue that is based on cooperation. A dialogue, I believe, which should foster reconciliation on matters that affect us all as a people and a dialogue that opens up to more voices. 
Second, I appeal to all readers of voting age not to take the vote for granted.  Failing to vote because you’re disillusioned with politics means you’re forfeiting your  right to have a voice and evading your duty. A failure to vote is not a protest vote but simply giving a go ahead for others to decide your future on your behalf. 
As someone who is still denied the right to a secret vote, I also wish to express hope that, if not in the next general election (due in a matter of months), I will have the opportunity to vote in secret for a change. Then, I would be truly included as an equal in the democratic process! 


I hope my ideas have given you some food for thought. Even if it’s important to make it clear once again that I’m no political expert, I have considered these principles and practical suggestions based on an understanding I have gained through my Buddhist practice. In fact, I find that the principle of co-dependence or how we remain essentially dependent on each other in life has inspired large part of my approach.
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