Arend Lijphart in a variety of contributions discusses the notion of a “consociational” or “consensus” democracy relating to or denoting a political system formed by the cooperation of different social groups on the basis of shared power. In his seminal 1999 treatise “Patterns of Democracy” he establishes a distinction between what he calls alternately “majoritarian” or “adversarial” democracies on the one hand, and “consociational” or “consensus” democracies on the other.
Since 2013, and more recently with the call for “continuity” by the present premier, this concept of “shared power” enshrined in our constitution is being sacrificed at the expense of a thinly disguised dictum of majority-based style of politics.
It need not be formally declared: facts stand as evidence and have on a day to day basis been amply chronicled, debated, acted upon or altogether cobwebbed or shelved. The ramifications of the current epidemic in Malta extends beyond the clinical connotations of the virus itself. It carries deep political reverberations that put in question the country’s constitutional democratic normative potential that derives its strengths from “popular autonomy”.
Against a proven and at times heuristic approach towards this liberal democratic political phenomenon, I shall try to shed light towards enabling an objective evaluation of constitutional infringements and numerous administrative transgressions Malta’s government is deeply involved in against a background of political discourse.
Malta, like other European countries, could be considered what Samuel Moyn (2015) refers to as a form of “religious constitutionalism”. Given our country’s millennial history and culture, and given that there exists a definitive relation between democracy and ‘Christianity and Natural Law’, this is hardly surprising.
Our constitution draws on proven constitutional prerogatives that enshrine a consistent ‘dialogue’ with faith – mediating with realities of extant secular thinking; the integrity of the human person and his communities in a polity while ascertaining an individual and collective autonomy and independence; establish effective institutional instruments of a public function and of constituted bodies and interest groups thus ensuring the authority of the body politic; envisage a “constrained democracy” where checks and balances are exercised on the person and on the political actors through power limitation. It promulgates an institutional mechanism that does away with emphasis on sovereignty and power of governments with a majority rule approach while developing a society and a public authority that place emphasis on solidarity and more importantly on subsidiarity in a “consociational democracy”.
Same applies to today’s EU that had replaced the EEC founded in 1957 by Christian leaders; recognised as a complex institutional mechanism where “neither the notion of federalism nor that of inter-governmentalism (nor the underlying principle of sovereignty) are mentioned in the treaties. The pivotal concept that emerges and that assumes centre stage is that of compromise, solidarity and subsidiarity.
Gabriel Almond defines a “political system” that involves four key categories – “a stable and clearly defined set of institutions for collective decision-making”; “citizens and social groups that seek to realise their political desires through the system”; “significant impact on the distribution of socioeconomic resources and political values across the system”; and “continuous interaction (feedback) between these political outputs and new demands on the system”.
While the human person is responsible for their own destiny and capable of assuming that responsibility, the social whole is an autonomous entity with its own specific destiny. Hence the autonomous actions of individuals need tend towards the realisation of the interest of the whole. The concept of popular autonomy involves a reconciliation between the subjective element of self-conscious choice by the people and objective element of adhesion to a specific organisation structure and set of substantive goals. Hence the importance of imposing strict limits on the individual and the social whole. Accordingly following from the doctrine of the inherent value of the human person is the importance of imposing strict limits on the nature and extent of public authority. This is what Jan-Werner Muller has called the theory of “constrained democracy”. (2011)
It is the task of such ‘organisation structure’, be it societal or a ‘public institution’ to work towards the “common good” assumed to be the overarching aim of all properly constituted political collectivities (i.e. peoples). The public authority (reading government in this context) is bound constitutionally to contribute towards the achievement of this common good as understood by the ‘peoples’ representing the state, assist same wherever on their own, in whole or in part, they cannot achieve their objectives and simultaneously ascertain the ‘reasonable’ parameters of good order. The mechanisms available to the recognised body politic for the realisation of these principles, include the practicing of open dialogue with political society in a spirit of collective decision-making, good governance and transparency in the upholding of the public order, the scrupulous implementation of the principle of distributive justice between all classes and more importantly the avoidance of any, even minute, decision or acclamation that could be interpreted as coercion.
It is unfortunate to conclude, that with due respect to a number of achievements in the socio-economic fields, the already experienced neo-liberal political action of government, verging towards autocracy, is now destined to become embedded in our socio-economic fabric following acclamations and political actions founded on the premise of “majoritarian rule”.
In contrast one cannot but recall the political system in our islands prior 2013.
The Partit Nazzjonalista mediated between the temporal common good and the respect to a spiritual principle that nurtures the integrity and authority of individuals that constitute a “people”, mainly practicing a political system based on subsidiarity and solidarity. It was also committed to the values of social inclusion, mediation and reconciliation in a spirit of “benevolence”. It restrained its mission uniquely to the role of government; promoted policies as generally agreed by the people, delegated to established institutions the oversight of law and order, promoted a sustainable economic growth.
Following successive years of sound yet sustainable economic deliverables in accordance with social market economy doctrine that sought to pragmatically apply the principle of distributive justice as an organic harmony between the classes, all this was intentionally and strategically blown with the wind with the instalment of a Labour government as of 2013.
The Labour government, strategically devised a “political system” that exchanged a successful low-profile political platform for a re-codified neo-liberal socio-economic programme that enabled the political regime to co-opt and nurture wealth and power amongst the powerful and influential elites while alienating the masses, as distinct from “people”, by an artificially moulded improved standard of living scenario that led to massive consumerism and corruption.
Discussing the message and not the messenger, this present premiership would do well to revisit its political action through an intensive dialogue with the whole of political society. Dialogue is not limited to formal consultations around negotiations table after that critical decisions had already been reached. It involves a structure that affords a deep deliberation amongst individuals, people’s specific interest groups, opposition parties and the media itself both formally and informally. Months back I had suggested the consideration for the reformation of our political society. It is a pity that the concept of such “consociational democracy” has been unwisely sacrificed.
Irrespective of all the good intentions, our prime minister would perhaps do himself a favour if he were to recall Konrad Adenauer’s 1946 statement: “Democracy is not exhausted in the parliamentary form of government, or even in the rule of majority over a minority…… It is a way of organising the entirety of society, which has its roots in the concept of dignity, the values of the inalienable rights of every single person, and ultimately the Christian faith ….. Democracy cannot be reduced to the ballot box …. (that) is ridiculous and absurd.”