Thursday, 11 June 2009

MaltaToday: Doubtful future for the Greens

The resignation of Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) chairperson Arnold Cassola, after the Green Party’s dismal result in the European Parliament elections this week, has cast further doubt on the future of the Green Party as it faces its second electoral rout in two years.

A year and a half ago, after the 8 March General Election, the head that rolled was that of then AD chairperson Harry Vassallo, who decided to call it a day after the party obtained 1.3% in the polls.

Vassallo’s resignation back then had already sown doubts about AD’s future since nobody wanted to take up the thankless post, for which Vassallo was not paid handsomely.

The only person who could immediately fill the vacuum was Arnold Cassola, general secretary of the European Greens since 1999, who had just lost his seat in the Italian Parliament after contesting with the Ulivo coalition in Italy. In fact, this two-year stint in Rome was used by PN candidates to spin against Cassola on house visits during the electoral campaign.

Speaking during the press conference in which he announced his resignation on Monday afternoon, Cassola acknowledged that this factor had contributed to AD’s dismal result in the 2009 EP elections.

However, the first person to congratulate Cassola on his election as MP in the Italian Parliament in 2006 was Nationalist leader Lawrence Gonzi himself.

Cassola’s resignation after just a year at the helm of the Green Party – the shortest term ever for an AD leader – has now put new pressures on AD’s future and existence.
The emergence of Joseph Muscat as PL leader and his insistence on a progressive movement has made inroads among disgruntled Nationalists who had voted AD in 2004.

This time around, with Muscat’s insistence on civil liberties such as divorce, single mothers and gay rights, these people felt more comfortable to switch to Labour for the first time.

These issues, which have traditionally been AD’s battle horses for years, were not exploited to the full during this electoral campaign, and were appropriated by Labour.

AD’s mishandling of gay activist Patrick Attard, who reportedly resigned in protest from AD over anti-gay remarks made during a party executive meeting, is perhaps the best example of the party’s aloofness on civil liberties recently.

Moreover, as Cassola himself admitted during his post-election press conference, the party’s message had not been in synch with the electorate’s wishes.

However, he insisted that pandering to the electorate on issues such as immigration and the integration of asylum seekers is not right, neither morally nor politically.

In addition, both the two main parties have appropriated themselves, to some degree or another, of AD’s historical battle horse – the protection of the environment.

This was clearly exempflied by the choice of Alan Deidun and Steve Borg, two renowned environmentalists, to contest for the EP elections on the Nationalist and Labour party tickets respectively.

So what future for AD? The choice of a new chairperson after October will be rather problematic for the party, as the number of people deemed ready to fill the post is very restricted.

Foremost among the AD officials deemed capable of filling the post are the current deputy chairpersons, Stephen Cachia and Mario Mallia. However, both of them have senior teaching posts which they would have to sort out. Former Nationalist MP Carmel Cacopardo may also fancy his chances.

A likelier candidate would be Sliema councillor Michael Briguglio, who at 34 might be considered slightly too young by some. However, AD might emulate the PL’s decision a year ago and elect a leader who is also aged 34, which would also see AD shift more to the left.

A lot depends on whether Briguglio will be re-elected on the Sliema Local Council or not. These are interesting times indeed for AD.

Profile: Arnold Cassola

Green Party chairman Arnold Cassola bowed gracefully out of local politics on Monday after a career spanning over 20 years.

An associate professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Malta, he was one of the co-founders of Alternattiva Demokratika/The Green Party in 1989.

Between 1994 and 1997, he served as local councillor in Swieqi.

Cassola was also elected member of the Executive Committee of the European Green Party in 1997, eventually becoming Secretary General of the Executive Committee: a post he held between 1999 and 2006.

Cassola, who has dual Maltese/Italian nationality, was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies by Italian expatriates in the Europe constituency with the centre-left coalition L’Unione between 2006 and 2008.

In July 2008, he replaced Harry Vassallo as AD chairman, after the Greens garnered 1.3% in the 2009 general election. On Monday he announced his intention not to enter his candidature for the leadership in October, after AD obtained a disappointing 2.8% in the 2009 EP election. Cassola’s best result in Maltese politics was in the 2004 EP election. On that occasion he obtained 9.33% of the first preference votes, narrowly failing to be elected one of Malta’s five MEPs.

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