Con­sti­tu­tional Court grants 2 ex­tra seats to PN fol­low­ing mis­takes in count­ing hall in 2013

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - ■ Neil Camil­leri

The Labour Party will not lose any seats which means that, for the first time in his­tory, Par­lia­ment will have 71 mem­bers.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court yes­ter­day granted two ex­tra seats to the Na­tion­al­ist Party fol­low­ing mis­takes com­mit­ted in the count­ing process in the last gen­eral elec­tion.

The Labour Party will not lose any seats which means that, for the first time in his­tory, Par­lia­ment will have 71 mem­bers.

The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion will now meet to de­ter­mine the process by which the two ex­tra MPs will be elected. It is an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion and their elec­tion could come via a ca­sual elec­tion, a co-op­tion ex­er­cise, a mix­ture of the two or any other way the com­mis­sion deems fit.

The case was filed by the PN on the way the count­ing of votes took place on the eighth and 13th dis­tricts, with the PN ar­gu­ing that mis­takes had cost the party two seats in the House.

Back in May a court had ruled that the PN should be given two ad­di­tional seats. That court de­clared that short­com­ings in the elec­toral process were in breach of Mal­tese laws as well as the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion. It also rec­om­mended to the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion to set up a pro­ce­dure ad­dress­ing sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions to avoid par­ties hav­ing to seek court re­dress. Both the govern­ment and the Labour Party ap­pealed.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court, presided by Chief Jus­tice Sil­vio Camil­leri, and in­clud­ing Mr Jus­tice Gian­nino Caru­ana De­majo and Mr Jus­tice Noel Cuschieri, yes­ter­day con­firmed that the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two sides should be of seven seats.

The Con­sti­tu­tional Court said PN MPs Claudette But­tigieg and Fred­er­ick Az­zopardi did not have a valid ju­di­cial ar­gu­ment be­cause both had been elected to par­lia­ment, even if through other means.

The court de­scribed the mis­takes as gen­uine and de­clared that there was no breach of the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion on Hu­man Rights in the case of the Gozo district. The court heard how a miss­ing ten-vote par­cel had ul­ti­mately been found but it could not be as­cer­tained that all ten votes be­longed to Fred­er­ick Az­zopardi.

In any case, th­ese would not have made a dif­fer­ence.

But the court said the PN could not just be given one seat, be­cause a seat dif­fer­ence that is an even num­ber would be in breach of the con­sti­tu­tion. The PN could only be given two seats or no seats at all. Ac­cord­ing to a math­e­mat­i­cal for­mula the PN had to be given 1.25 seats, which is closer to 2 than to zero seats. As such, two seats were granted to the PN.

The court also re­pealed that part of the orig­i­nal judge­ment that had or­dered the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion to change the sys­tem. It said, how­ever, that the PN should be given two ex­tra seats at no cost to the Labour Party. Th­ese should be granted within the time­frame es­tab­lished in the orig­i­nal judge­ment, which was one month.

Speak­ing to the me­dia shortly af­ter the judge­ment was handed down, a ju­bi­lant PN Deputy Leader Beppe Fenech Adami said this was a “vic­tory for democ­racy.”

PL did ev­ery­thing it could to de­lay the process and deny the Mal­tese peo­ple just par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

De­spite all of th­ese de­lay­ing tac­tics, right­eous­ness had won and Joseph Mus­cat now had a smaller ma­jor­ity. “This means that the nine-seat ma­jor­ity he had for the past three years was a sham and was to­day con­demned by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court,” Dr Fenech Adami said.

Asked who would be tak­ing up the sec­ond seat – Ed­win Vas­sallo is au­to­mat­i­cally elected to Par­lia­ment – the PN Deputy Leader said the party would have to an­a­lyse this.

Lawyer Paul Borg Olivier, a for­mer PN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral, said the court had con­firmed the orig­i­nal judge­ment, which said the PN should be given two ad­di­tional seats in the short­est time pos­si­ble. “This ef­fec­tively means that the com­po­si­tion of Par­lia­ment will now be as peo­ple wanted and voted for.

“PN has been say­ing for the past three and a half years that is had been de­nied two seats be­cause of a mis­take. The govern­ment has been say­ing, in an un­demo­cratic way that, de­spite this mis­take, we should not be given the ad­di­tional seats. To­day is a vic­tory for democ­racy.”

Lawyer Robert Abela, who ap­peared for the Labour Party, said the court has re­formed the sen­tence, which shows how right the govern­ment was in ap­peal­ing the orig­i­nal judge­ment.

The court said that the two PN MPs, Claudette But­tigieg and Fred­er­ick Az­zopardi, did not have a valid ju­di­cial in­ter­est in the case. “If any­thing, it was the PN that had a valid ar­gu­ment, but only on one district. The court said the PN de­served to get just one seat but our con­sti­tu­tion says that the dif­fer­ence be­tween govern­ment and op­po­si­tion can­not be an even num­ber.”

Dr Abela said one would now have to see how the change would be im­ple­mented.

Asked for a re­ac­tion to Dr Fenech Adami’s com­ments, Dr Abela re­but­ted it was the PN that had lost, not the PL. “The Labour Party still has a 36,000-vote ma­jor­ity and only the com­po­si­tion of Par­lia­ment will change.”

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