Updated at 6.45pm with Moviment Patrijotti Maltin's statement
Four candidates of Malta's smallest political party will each be contesting next month's general elections on two districts of their choice following two separate judgments handed down this afternoon by the Superior Court of Appeal.
In the first judgment, the court, presided over by Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri and Mr Justices Giannino Caruana Demajo and Noel Cuschieri, rejected an appeal filed by Ivan Grech Mintoff, President of Alleanza Bidla, Joseph Giardina and Saviour Xuereb and confirmed a decision of the Electoral Commission not to allow each prospective candidate to contest more than two electoral districts.
The Electoral Commission had originally accepted nominations from the three candidates on more than two districts, subject to any objection being duly registered in terms of law. An objection was subsequently entered by the far-right party Moviment Patrijotti Maltin and was upheld by the Commission which ruled that the candidates could only contest two districts.
The court of appeal rejected the argument of the appellants that the objection was void since it had not been recorded on the appropriate department form, noting that the law merely prescribed that the objection was to be registered in writing.
Moreover, the court observed that the fact that the candidates had entered nominations on more than two districts was sufficient ground for an objection to be raised.
Although the Commission itself had not objected to the additional nominations, this did not imply that an objection by any other third party lacked "a valid reason". If anything, the Commission had failed to perform its duties, the court remarked.
In the second judgment, the court overturned a decision by the Electoral Commission when it upheld an appeal by Elizabeth Claire Mikkelsen, granting her the right to submit her documents for nomination as candidate for Alleanza Bidla.
It ordered the Commission to process the said application and ordered Ms Mikkelsen to identify the two districts which she will be contesting. Any possible objection to this nomination was to be registered by 7pm today.
The court observed that Ms Mikkelsen had gone to the Commission's Office at Naxxar to submit her nomination on closing date last Saturday afternoon. When an issue arose regarding whether Alleanza Bidla's candidates were to be allowed to contest more than two districts, Ms Mikkelsen was constrained to leave to attend to family matters, taking her documents with her.
Later in the evening, after receiving a call from her colleagues that the process of registration was to continue, Ms Mikkelsen rushed back to Naxxar but was denied access on account of the fact that the 7pm deadline had been exceeded by a couple of minutes.
The court observed that the processing of Ms Mikkelsen's application had indeed started earlier in the afternoon and that it was through no fault of hers that the registration had not been completed.
The Commission had taken longer than usual to complete the process, until matters were clarified. However, the candidate was not to bear the consequences of this delay, the court concluded.
In comments to this newspaper, Mr Grech Mintoff declared that these judgments showed that what is termed as "Malta's smallest political party" may indeed bring about a much-needed change to the establishment.
Within the current political scenario where the two major parties have similar ideologies and where certain candidates have switched allegiances, the voice of Alleanza Bidla, as the name itself implies, should serve as a catalyst for change.
"We are a Christian party and we firmly believe that the hand of God was behind today's court rulings," said a determined Mr Grech Mintoff, hinting that his party would further its cause.
Profs Ian Refalo was counsel to the Electoral Commission. Lawyers Victoria Buttigieg and Isaac Zammit represented the AG's office. Lawyer Tonio Azzopardi was counsel to Alleanza Bidla.
Moviment Patrijotti Maltin's reaction
In a statement, the MPM said it had to be its secretary, who was not well versed in the law, to correctly interpret the Electoral Act and object to the extra Alleanza Bidla nominations, which were accepted by the Commission, the media and the two big parties which were full of lawyers.
The MPM's objection, the movement said, led to the removal of 27 irregular nominations preventing a dangerous precedent which could have undermined future elections.