The provisions of the Corrupt Practices Act may be seen by some as arcane, but the spirit is certainly very clear: ‘buying’ votes, broadly defined, is considered a serious offence.
Over the years, the major political parties have devised clever and not-so-ingenious ways to circumvent these provisions and neither the Electoral Commission, nor the Attorney General or the police have done anything about it. That could hopefully be about to change.
When, just weeks before the last election, 380,000 people benefited from 70 million euros in cash checks and tax refunds, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana ignored accusations that it was a vote buying exercise.
The police didn’t see anything wrong either. “The police do not consider the issuance of government checks to be a corrupt practice within the meaning of Chapters 102 and 354 of the laws of Malta,” a spokesperson had said. The spokesman did not say why or whether the attorney general’s opinion was sought. This would have been helpful, as the law states that no prosecution for a corrupt practice can take place without the blessing of the AG.
It is not known whether the Electoral Commission has looked into the matter. Since, as one might expect, the Nationalist Party complained publicly, one would have thought that its delegates on the commission would at least have raised the issue. Did they do it, and if they did, what was the result?
The statement made by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) makes it imperative that a thorough assessment exercise be launched immediately.
He observed that handing out tax refunds and stimulus checks, along with a personalized letter signed by the prime minister and finance minister, both contesting the election, “could blur the line between the party and state and fail to comply with international standards and best practices”.
While it was fine for the government to help the public in a time of worrying inflation, we have always argued that the timing of audits was ultimately a costly exercise in vote buying.
Its international experts who followed the election on the ground found that, organizationally, it was organized in an efficient and professional manner, and stakeholders expressed confidence in most stages of the process. They noted that transparency was reduced by limited access to the activities of electoral commissions, the absence of regulations allowing election observation, and the lack of control and access to information on party and campaign financing.
The report also highlighted PBS’s lack of independence from the government. Nothing new there.
In its report, the ODIHR listed a number of recommendations, including access for all stakeholders to meetings of the Electoral Commission and the publication of minutes as well as the revision of the legal framework to strengthen control.
As if to note that there’s not much hope for things to change, he pointed out that most of his previous recommendations to boost transparency and improve disclosure remain unfulfilled.
Elections are an essential part of any democracy, and every effort should be made to ensure that any reported shortcomings are corrected.
The parties represented in parliament are unlikely to want to make it difficult for them. The Electoral Commission, on the other hand, seems to lack the requisite legal muscle, although of course nothing prevents it from making recommendations itself.
Yet surely there must be individuals within both parties, even in parliament, ready to stand up and be counted, especially on such a sensitive ingredient of the country’s democratic process.
Surely there must be individuals within both parties, even in parliament, ready to stand up and be counted, especially on such a sensitive ingredient of the country’s democratic process.
If a private member’s motion based on the OSCE proposals is presented, the government and the opposition may find it difficult to be perceived as opposing such a democratic approach.
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