GENERAL ELECTIONS '13:
9th March, 2013

THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM IN MALTA



PROCLAMATION

The Palace, Valletta, Malta.
4th February, 2008.

H.E. the President of Malta, Dr. George Abela, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi, today issued the Proclamation dissolving the House of Representatives and calling for fresh general elections for the House, to be held on Saturday, 9th March, 2013.


For full text of:

please click here.



The framework of the Maltese electoral system is defined in Chapter VI of the Constitution of Malta, which states:

    "There shall be a Parliament of Malta which shall consist of the President and a House of Representatives."

  • General: Every Maltese citizen aged 18 or older has the right to vote, and every citizen aged 21 or older is eligible for election of Members to the Maltese Parliament. (The president, judges and senior public officials, as well as the Commander and high-ranking military officers, may not stand for election to the House, unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections.)

  • National: The entire country constitutes 13 electoral districts with the sister island of Gozo being the 13th electoral district.

  • Direct: The Maltese Parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors.

  • Equal: All votes cast are equal in weight.

  • Secret: Elections are by secret ballot.

  • Proportional: The 65-member House of Representatives' seats are assigned by the Proportional Representation system which elects five MPs from each electoral district.


The Electoral Commission

Evans Building,
St. Elmo Street
Valletta - CMR 02
MALTA

Tel. No. 2124 7498

Chairman: Mr Saviour Gauci

Members:
Dr Joseph Buttigieg BA, LL.D.
Mr Mario Callus Dip. BM
Mr Vanni Ganado
Mr Salvu Sant
Mr Joseph Scicluna
Mr Tony Sultana MSc, BSc.
Dr Ray Zammit LL.D.
Dr Joe Zammit Maempel LL.D.

The Secretary to the Electoral Commission is Mr Joe Calleja

Validity Date:

Govt. Gaz.: xx.xx.2012


MALTA'S ELECTORAL SYSTEM

THE SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE

This brief account will describe the unusual system which Malta uses for its elections and then give a summary of the outcome of Maltese elections over the years.

There are only two countries in the world, Malta and Ireland, which elect their national legislatures by way of a method called the single transferable vote (STV). This method was invented in the 19th century, was ardently advocated by John Stuart Mill, and continues to intrigue political scientists the world over. Many political reformers still regard it as one of the fairest ways to translate the wishes of voters into parliamentary seats for candidates and parties. The manner in which STV is conducted involves some complex procedures. But the essentials of the STV method can be described in fairly simple terms.

Under STV, all voters are asked to give a preference ranking to as many candidates on the ballot as they wish, in numerical order: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.. When indicating their preferences voters may choose candidates from different political parties although in actual practice Maltese voters rarely stray from the candidates of their one chosen party.

In order to win a seat, a candidate must receive a specified 'quota' of votes in the district. This quota is computed quite simply by taking the number of valid votes and dividing them by the number of seats plus one. For instance, if in a particular district 5 candidates are to be elected and 12,000 votes have been cast altogether, the quota would be 12,000 divided by 6 (i.e. 5+1) or 2,000 votes.

When the ballots are first counted, the first (number 1) preferences on all ballots are examined, and any candidate who received enough first preference votes to meet the quota will be declared elected. Some candidates may have more first preference votes than the quota actually required for election. All votes which a candidate received in excess of the needed quota are declared surplus votes; but these are not disregarded but are instead transferred to the candidate who was indicated on the ballot as the voter's next-ranked choice. A second count will then be made to determine whether any other candidate has achieved the quota, now that votes have been transferred.

Additional counts will usually be necessary to determine the various winners in succession. If on any count no candidate meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and his or her votes are transferred to the candidate who is the next-ranked choice on the ballot paper. (If a ballot paper no longer indicates a preference for a remaining candidate, then the vote becomes 'non-transferable' and remains unused.) These transfers of votes, from candidates who have either been elected or eliminated, continue through successive counts until all seats have been filled.

This method of election differs significantly from the first- past-the-post, winner-take-all system used in Great Britain and the U.S. and from the party-list proportional representation system used in many West European countries. The most important features of the single transferable vote method are that (1) several candidates will be elected in each district; (2) voters cast their votes for individual candidates, not for a list of party candidates; and (3) voters are free to distribute their preferences among candidates of different parties or independent candidates. These features recommend themselves to many electoral reformers, especially those who are concerned about the adequate representation of various minorities among the electorate.


How Malta Votes: An Overview

This brief account describes the unusual system which Malta uses for its elections and then give a summary of the outcome of Maltese elections over the years.

The 'rules' of the General Elections in Malta are defined by the Constitution and other subsidiary legistlation. This page contains an explanation of how Malta votes.

A. THE SINGLE-TRANSFERABLE-VOTE SYSTEM

There are only two countries in the world, Malta and Ireland, which elect their national legislatures by way of a method called the single transferable vote (STV). This method was invented in the 19th century, was ardently advocated by John Stuart Mill, and continues to intrigue political scientists the world over. Many political reformers still regard it as one of the fairest ways to translate the wishes of voters into parliamentary seats for candidates and parties. The manner in which STV is conducted involves some rather complex procedures. Still, the essentials of the method can be described in fairly simple terms.

Under STV, all voters are asked to give a preference ranking to as many candidates on the ballot as they wish, in numerical order: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc.. When indicating their preferences voters may choose candidates from different political parties although in actual practice Maltese voters rarely stray from the candidates of their chosen party.

In order to win a seat, a candidate must receive a specified "quota" of votes in the district. This quota is, broadly speaking, determined by taking the number of valid votes and dividing them by the number of seats plus one. For instance, if in a particular district 5 candidates are to be elected and 12,000 votes have been cast altogether, then the quota would be 12,000 divided by 6 (i.e. 5+1) or 2,000 votes. [To be precise, the formula actually is (votes/(seats +1)+1).]

When the ballots are first counted, the first (number 1) preferences on all ballots are examined, and any candidate who received enough first preference votes to meet the quota will be declared elected. It often happens that some candidates have more first preference votes than the quota actually required for election. In that case, all votes which a candidate received in excess of the needed quota are declared surplus votes. But these votes are not disregarded; instead they are transferred to the candidate who was indicated on the ballot as the voter's next-ranked choice. Once these votes have been transferred, a second count will be made to determine whether any other candidate has now achieved the quota.

Additional counts will usually be necessary to determine the various winners in succession. If on any count no candidate meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and his or her votes are transferred to the candidate who is the next-ranked choice on the ballot paper. (If a ballot paper no longer indicates a preference for a remaining candidate, then the vote becomes 'non-transferable' and remains unused.) These transfers of votes, from candidates who have either been elected or eliminated, continue through successive counts until all seats have been filled.

This method of election differs significantly from the first-past-the-post, winner-take-all system used in Great Britain and the U.S., and from the party-list proportional representation system used in many West European countries. The most important features of the single transferable vote method are that (1) several candidates will be elected in each district; (2) voters cast their votes for individual candidates in preferential order, not for a list of party candidates; and (3) voters are free to distribute their preferences among candidates of different parties or independent candidates. These features recommend themselves to many electoral reformers, especially those who are concerned about the adequate representation of various minorities among the electorate.

B. THE VOTERS' CHOICES

How have Maltese voters acted under the STV system and with what results? Here are five noteworthy aspects of Malta's electoral system in action.

1. Over the years, Malta has moved from a multi-party to a two-party system. In the 1950s and 1960s a number of smaller parties secured a substantial number of votes and some seats in the legislature. These smaller parties included the Constitutionalists, the Gozo Party, the Maltese Workers Party, the Democratic Action Party and the Christian Workers Party. None of them lasted for more than a few years. Since 1971 the two major parties -- the Nationalists (PN) and the Labour Party (MLP) -- have dominated the electoral arena with no serious competition from any other party. The most recent third-party challenge has came from the Alternattiva Demokratika; in 1992 it polled only 1.7% of the vote and it fared even worse in the succeeding two elections.
2. Political competition in Malta is marked by a high degree of partisanship. Divisions among the political parties are sharply drawn; political discussion is often heated; and there have even been a few instances of political violence in recent years. Intense partisanship goes hand in hand with a high voter turnout at elections. Maltese voters have the highest turnout figures of all Western democracies. Also, they show their partisan commitment at election time by the remaining impressively loyal to their political party. Even though the electoral system permits it, voters hardly ever split heir voting preferences among candidates of different parties (in 1992, a mere 1.2% of the Labour votes and 2.0% of the Nationalist votes were transferred to candidates of another party).
3. While political competition is vigorous and boisterous, none of the Maltese parties preach revolutionary change. They differ on many issues (privatization, the European Union, taxation and the like) but they are agreed on the fundamentals of the constitutional order and democratic processes. Unlike some other European countries, Malta has not had to contend with anti-regime parties that threatened the political system itself. The Communist Party made one attempt to participate in elections in 1987; it polled 119 votes (0.05%).
4. The electoral support for Maltese political parties is not only sharply divided along partisan lines; it is also distributed fairly equally among the two major parties. All elections since 1971 have been close contests between the two major parties, with the result that parliamentary majorities for the parties have been wafer-thin. There have been no landslide victories and the voter "mandate" which winning parties usually claim has tended to be remarkably weak over the years. The 51.8% of the vote which the PN received in 1992 was exceptionally high for a party. In order to seize the reins of government, the PN needed only 42.0% of the popular vote in 1962 and 47.9% in 1966.
5. When the parties are fairly evenly matched in voter support, then the process of translating votes into seats can produce unexpected and distorting outcomes, as was demonstrated in a spectacular fashion by the "perverse" result of the 1981 election. In that year the MLP gained 49.1% of the popular vote yet obtained 52.3% of the seats in parliament and formed the government. While some disproportionality between vote and seat percentages has been quite common, what made the situation unprecedented was that the rival party (the PN) had actually obtained a majority of the popular vote but was not rewarded with a majority of the legislative seats. The same situation occurred again in 1987 and once more in 1996, but by then a newly adopted constitutional amendment provided that the party with a majority of the popular vote would be awarded a sufficient number of additional seats to give it a legislative majority.

The outcome of the 1981 election highlighted a common problem with electoral systems, that of systematic disproportionality between vote percentages and seat percentages of political parties. Sometimes, such disproportionality is engineered through dubious practices like "gerrymanders." Often it results from built-in factors such as small election districts. Malta has constituencies with five members, each seat therefore being 20% of a district's total. However, since votes never distribute themselves into neat 20% segments, there will always be some disproportion between vote and seat percentages at the district level. Usually these disproportionalities tend to cancel each other out on a national basis; but there is no assurance that this will happen in every election.

Ever since the adoption of STV in Malta in 1921 there have been recurrent expressions of discontent and proposals for change. These were usually prompted by a party's disappointment with the outcome of a previous election or concern about its electoral prospects. In the wake of the 1981 election result have come the most far-reaching and sustained attempts at electoral reform. These proposals, vigorously promoted by the then Nationalist government, proclaimed the dual aim of assuring both proportionality and "governability" (the latter meaning one-party control of government). The proposed adoption of the d'Hondt method on a national basis would have promoted proportionality. But it failed to garner the needed bipartisan support in parliament. Instead, constitutional amendments adopted in 1987 and 1996 seek to assure "governability" by providing one-party legislative majorities as much as possible, even at the expense of proportionality.

In September 2007 the Maltese Constitution was amended to allow Gozo to remain one single electoral district despite the fact that its number of eligible voters was over the average allowed by the Constitution. Other changes were made to ensure strict proportionality between the number of first preferences and the number of seats obtained when two parties are elected in Parliament.

Source: www.maltadata.com


What the law says about elections in Malta

The Constitution of Malta is supreme and lays down the rules on which party has won the general election. Other subsidiary legislation defines the setting up of Parliament and other details. This page contains extracts from the laws relevant to a General Election.

CONSTITUTION OF MALTA: Chapters 6 and 7

These chapters in the Maltese Constitution provide the framework for the holding of general elections in Malta that lead to the selection of a political party to govern the country and the members of the House of Representatives.

51. There shall be a Parliament of Malta which shall consist of the President and a House of Representatives.

52. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Chapter, the House of Representatives shall consist of such number of members, being an odd number and divisible by the number of electoral divisions, as Parliament shall from time to time by law determine. Such members shall be elected in the manner provided by or under any law for the time being in force in Malta in equal proportions from the electoral divisions referred to in article 56 of this Constitution, each division returning such number of members, being not less than five and not more than seven as Parliament shall from time to time by law determine; and such members shall be known as "Members of Parliament":

Provided that where -
(i) at any general election, a political party obtains in the aggregate more than fifty per centum of all the valid votes cast at that election, as credited to its candidates by the Electoral Commission at the first count of all the votes, but the number of its candidates elected at such election is less than the total of all the other candidates so elected; or
(ii) at a general election which is contested by more than two political parties and in which only candidates of two of such parties are elected, a political party obtains a percentage of all the valid votes cast at such election, as credited to its candidates by the Electoral Commission at the first count of all the votes, which is greater than that obtained by any one other party, but the number of its candidates elected at such election is less than the number of the other candidates so elected, the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be increased by as many members as may be necessary in order that the party obtaining more than fifty per centum, or the larger percentage, of all the valid votes, as the case may be, shall have one member more than the total of the other candidates elected at that election; and, in any such case, such persons shall be declared by the Electoral Commission to be elected to fill the additional seats created by this proviso who, being candidates of the party last mentioned at such elections, were credited by the Electoral Commission at the last count, with the highest or next higher number of votes without being elected, irrespective of the division in which such highest or higher number of votes occurs.

(2) If any person who is not a member of the House of Representatives is elected to be Speaker of the House he shall, by virtue of holding the office of Speaker, be a member of the House in addition to the other members:
Provided that in any such case the Speaker shall not be treated as a member of the House for the purpose of establishing the number of votes required to support a bill for any of the purposes of article 66 of this Constitution. (Cap. 354.)

(3) The provisions of Part IV of the General Elections (Sorting of Ballot Papers, Casual Elections and Co-opting) Regulations, in the Thirteenth Schedule to the General Elections Act and the Annex to such Schedule, as in force on the coming into force of this subarticle may only be deleted, amended or substituted by a bill for an Act of Parliament passed in the manner specified in sub-article (2) of article 66 of this Constitution. (Qualifications for membership of House of Representatives.)

53. Subject to the provisions of article 54 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives if, and shall not be qualified to be so elected unless, he has the qualifications for registration as a voter for the election of members of the House of Representatives mentioned in article 57 of this Constitution.

54. (1) No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives -

(a) if he is a citizen of a country other than Malta having become such a citizen voluntarily or is under a declaration of allegiance to such a country;
(b) save as otherwise provided by Parliament, if he holds or is acting in any public office or is a member of the armed forces of the Government of Malta;
(c) if he is a party to, or is a partner with unlimited liability in a partnership or a director or manager of a company which is a party to, a contract with the Government of Malta being a contract of works or a contract for the supply of merchandise to be used in the service of the public and has not, within one month before the date of election, published in the Gazette a notice setting out the nature of any such contract, and his interest, or the interest of any such partnership or company, therein;
(d) if he is an undischarged bankrupt, having been adjudged or otherwise declared bankrupt under any law in force in Malta;
(e) if he is interdicted or incapacitated for any mental infirmity or for prodigality by a court in Malta, or is otherwise determined in Malta to be of unsound mind;
(f) if he is under sentence of death imposed on him by any court in Malta or is serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called), exceeding twelve months imposed on him by such a court or substituted by competent authority for some other sentence imposed on him by such a court, or is under such a sentence of imprisonment the execution of which has been suspended;
(g) if he holds or is acting in any office the functions of which involve any responsibility for, or in connection with, the conduct of any election of members of the House of Representatives or the compilation or revision of any electoral register;
(h) if he is disqualified for membership of the House of Representatives by or under any law for the time being in force in Malta by reason of his having been convicted of any offence connected with the election of members of the House of Representatives.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (f) of sub-article (1) of this article -

--- omissis ---

56. (1) The members of the House of Representatives shall be elected upon the principle of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote from such number of electoral divisions, being an odd number and not less than nine and not more than fifteen, as Parliament shall from time to time determine.
(2) The election of members of the House of Representatives shall be free of illegal or corrupt practices and foreign interference.
(3) It shall be the duty of the Electoral Commission to suspend the election, either in all electoral divisions or in any one or more of such divisions, if it has reasonable ground to believe that illegal or corrupt practices or other offences connected with the elections have been committed or there has been foreign interference and such practices, offences or interference have so extensively prevailed or have been of such nature that they may reasonably be expected to affect the result of the election, in all or in any one or more of the electoral divisions.
(4) In any case in which an election is suspended under subarticle (3) of this article, the Chief Electoral Commissioner shall forthwith refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for its decision.
(5) Where any of the grounds on which an election may be suspended under sub-article (3) of this article exist and the election has not been suspended, or where illegal or corrupt practices or other offences or foreign interference as are referred to in that subarticle may reasonably be supposed to have affected the result of an election, in all or in any one or more of the electoral divisions, any person entitled to vote at that election may, not later than three days after the publication of the official result of the election, refer the matter to the Constitutional Court for its decision.
(9) No person shall vote at the election of members of the House of Representatives for any electoral division who is not registered under any law for the time being in force in Malta as a voter in that division.
(10) At the election of members of the House of Representatives- (a) voting shall be by ballot and shall be carried out in such a manner as not to disclose the way in which the vote of any particular voter is given; and (b) no person shall be permitted to vote on behalf of another: Provided that provision may be made by law whereby, if a person is unable, by reason of blindness, other physical cause or illiteracy to mark on his ballot paper, his ballot paper may be marked on his behalf and on his directions by some other person officially supervising the poll at the place of voting.
(11) Ballot papers shall be drawn up in such a manner as to enable illiterates to distinguish between the political parties to which candidates belong.
(12) Candidates and their agents shall be given facilities to watch the transportation of ballot boxes and the sealing and unsealing thereof.
(13) The expressions "corrupt practice", "offences connected with the election of members of the House of Representatives" and "foreign interference" have the meaning assigned to them by a law for the time being in force regulating the conduct of elections or foreign interference with respect to elections, and any such law shall be deemed for the purposes of this article and of articles 32 to 47 (inclusive) of this Constitution to be reasonably required in the interest of public order and reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.

Qualification of voters.

57. Subject to the provisions of article 58 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter for the election of members of the House of Representatives if, and shall not be qualified to be so registered unless -

(a) he is a citizen of Malta;
(b) he has attained the age of eighteen years; and (c) he is resident in Malta and has during the eighteen months immediately preceding his registration been a resident for a continuous period of six months or for periods amounting in the aggregate to six months:

Disqualification of voters.

58. No person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter for the election of members of the House of Representatives if -

(a) he is interdicted or incapacitated for any mental infirmity by a court in Malta or is otherwise determined in Malta to be of unsound mind;
(b) he is under sentence of death imposed on him by any court in Malta or is serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) exceeding twelve months imposed on him by such a court or substituted by competent authority for some other sentence imposed on him by such a court, or is under such a sentence of imprisonment the execution of which has been suspended; or
(c) he is disqualified for registration as a voter by or under any law for the time being in force in Malta by reason of his having been convicted of any offence connected with the election of members of the House of Representatives.

60. (1) There shall be an Electoral Commission for Malta.

61. (1) The Electoral Commission shall review the boundaries of the electoral divisions referred to in article 56. (1) of this Constitution at intervals of not less than two nor more than five years and may, in accordance with the provisions of this article, alter such boundaries to such extent as it considers desirable in the light of the review:

65. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Malta.

72. (1) The power of Parliament to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by the House of Representatives and assented to by the President.
(2) When a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall without delay signify that he assents.
(3) A bill shall not become law unless it has been duly passed and assented to in accordance with this Constitution.
(4) When a law has been assented to by the President it shall without delay be published in the Gazette and shall not come into operation until it has been so published, but Parliament may postpone the coming into operation of any such law and may make laws with retrospective effect.

Summoning, prorogation and dissolution

75. (1) Each session of Parliament shall commence at such time as the President may by proclamation appoint and shall be held at such place or places as the President by proclamation, or as the House of Representatives in any manner it may deem appropriate, may from time to time appoint.

76. (1) The President may at any time by proclamation prorogue or dissolve Parliament.

CHAPTER VII - The Executive

78. (1) The executive authority of Malta is vested in the President.
(2) The executive authority of Malta shall be exercised by the President, either directly or through officers subordinate to him, in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.
(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent Parliament from conferring functions on persons or authorities other than the President.

The Cabinet.

79. (1) There shall be a Cabinet for Malta which shall consist of the Prime Minister and such number of other Ministers as may be appointed in accordance with article 80 of this Constitution.
(2) The Cabinet shall have the general direction and control of the Government of Malta and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament.


The Counting of Votes

At the polling station, on presentation of his or her voting document (which includes the holder's photograph), the voter is handed a ballot paper. The ballot paper is split lengthwise into as many sections as there are Parties. The Parties appear alphabetically (with independent candidates following) and their lists are printed in a different colour (in 1992 the Democratic Alternative's candidates appear in green, the MLP's in red, the PN's in blue and Independents in black). Within each Party list the Party's candidates also appear alphabetically.

In the polling booth the voter has to number the candidates (from "1" onwards) in the order of his preference. As many preferences as there are candidates may be given by each voter.

The counting of votes begins with the Electoral Commission checking that the number of votes in each box is equivalent to the number of the names of voters marked in the Electoral Register held by the Assistant Electoral Commissioner at each polling place.

The first preference votes (those votes showing the digit "1" for a candidate) are then counted. The Electoral Commission establishes the electoral Quota (the number of votes required to elect a Member of Parliament) for each District. The Quota is determined by dividing the valid votes cast by six (the number of seats to be elected plus one) and then adding a single vote to this total.

The Quota being established, the elected candidate or candidates are those who have reached or exceeded the said Quota. If no candidate succeeds in reaching the Quota on the first count, the second count begins. If a candidate exceeds the Quota, the transfer of his surplus votes is carried out in the second count. If two or more candidates obtain a surplus, the larger surplus is transferred in the second count. the next largest surplus in the third count and so on. The surplus votes are distributed to other candidates according to the next preference as indicated by the voter; those votes showing no second preference are put away.

If in any count no candidate has reached the Quota, the candidate who has the least number of votes is eliminated. If the total number of votes held by the two or more candidates having the least votes is less than that of the candidate with the next least number of votes, all these candidates can be eliminated at the same time. When a candidate is eliminated his or her votes are passed on to the candidates who receive the next preferences. Votes which do not have further preferences are put aside as non-transferable votes.

This process of transferring surplus votes and the elimination of candidates continues until five candidates are elected from the District. In the final count it is possible for a candidate or candidates to be elected without a Quota if the number of non-eliminated candidates is equal to the number of seats left to be filled.

Article is courtesy of Prof. John C. Lane of Buffalo, USA



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