Labour supporters are getting to choose the next prime minister of Malta. But ‘prime minister’ is a serious understatement as a description of the role.

There’s also the annoying detail that our prime minister – whoever happens to be holding that office – is effectively an elected absolute monarch, a bit like a pope. He gets to choose judges, civil servants, ministers, heads of department, senior policemen, senior state lawyers, army chiefs, everyone and everything.

It’s terrible that when a leader is chosen by a party in between elections, the people who are going to be governed by their choice do not get a say in the matter. But it’s a nightmare when even the ones that do get to make a choice can be cheated out of their own preference because of election fraud.

Consider the case of Lino Spiteri who lost to Alfred Sant in the 1992 election to replace Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. Years after that election Lino Spiteri claimed he only lost to Alfred Sant because a crony for his rival stuffed ballot boxes with fake votes for Sant. The allegation proved reasonable and plausible though Alfred Sant would use the term “illegitimate” for the elections of most other people except himself.

When Lino Spiteri told that story it was about the bitterness he felt for being cheated out of glory. But the real victims were the people of Malta who wondered for a long time what might have been if they did not have a political leader who for 16 years campaigned for the weird notion of ‘Svizzera fil-Mediterran’.

We’re living through the ‘might have beens’ with the Nationalist Party right now. Allegations that Jean Pierre Debono, working for Adrian Delia, manipulated the conduct of the leadership election in favour of the candidate he supported at the time were rife. Some of those allegations appeared to have been verified by an independent internal investigation that however did nothing to right that wrong.

If the PN leader was, as is sometimes half-heartedly alleged, elected with the help of electoral fraud, it is not just the PN and its supporters that have been cheated of the alternative choice. It’s the entire country that needs and deserves the best possible Leader of the Opposition, theoretically an influential position in its own right and, also theoretically given the current electoral prospects of the PN, the waiting room for the all-powerful role of prime minister.

The public will never know if the internal party rivals of Alfred Sant, Adrian Delia and Chris Fearne have made allegations against their campaigns of electoral fraud merely out of desperation, or out of not knowing a better way of beating them at the internal ballot.

But not knowing, and not having anyone independent to rely on to tell them that they have checked on their behalf, erodes the public’s confidence in the entire democratic process.