26 FEBRUARY 2003

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Referendum footsie, Sant can play it good

By Matthew Vella
Strong indications from Opposition Leader Alfred Sant indicate that the referendum result will fall prey to his dilly-dallying unless it suits his fancy. Just a fortnight away from the plebiscite, and Sant is still biding his time on whether the Malta Labour Party will be respecting the outcome of the 8 March.
It was during a televised Broadcasting Authority press conference earlier this week, discussing the theme "Partnership – l-ahjar ghazla," (Partnership – the best choice) that Dr Alfred Sant peddled a fresh new perspective on the referendum result.
Asked by our sister paper MaltaToday on Sunday whether he would be ignoring the referendum result if a majority vote against EU membership, Sant replied that he will be "waiting until the end of the referendum to then interpret the result."
His answer is either anti-democratic or shrewd power play. Weighing off any committal to the referendum, of which the Labour Party itself has invited its supporters to vote ‘no’, Sant did not answer whether he would respect a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.
His wait-and-see tactic makes good for referendum dilly-dallying. Sant’s "interpretation" quip aims at giving him ample room to not commit himself to the outcome of the referendum unless its suits his power game.
This leaves Sant the prerogative to play his general election card if a positive vote for EU membership gives Government the green light on the eventful Saturday.
With a majority voting against EU membership however, Sant would be allowed to passively ignore the result, safe in the knowledge of a possible Labour victory in the general elections.
Sant’s trifling with the referendum outcome stands diametrically opposed to Deputy Leader George Vella’s clear outlook on the result. Earlier last week, Dr Vella told The Sunday Times during an interview it will be an absolute majority to decide the outcome of the referendum:
"If one wants to prove to me that the majority of people are in favour of EU membership, I would expect to see 50 per cent plus one of all eligible voters voting Yes – with the exclusion of that very small percentage who never vote."
With the General Workers Union also in favour of a referendum, it seems it will only be at the eleventh hour that the Opposition Leader’s reaction to the results will be known.
Sant has already gone on record saying a consultative referendum can only bind the administration that is sanctioning it, arguing that only a general election can truly reflect the will of the people. In recent weeks, he has called the EU referendum a "fake" referendum, reiterating his accusation during last Sunday’s Broadcasting Authority press conference.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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