As chairman of the Press Ethics Commission, I was accorded the distinct privilege of chairing the particular panel discussion of the Commonwealth Journalists Association’s conference in Malta titled Democratic Deficits.

... like it or not, Malta is... experiencing a democratic deficit of sorts- Kevin F. Dingli

Democratic deficit is a famous phrase said to have been coined in 1979 by British political scientist David Marquand to describe the functioning of the then European Community.

Such a deficit is generally said to occur whenever an organisation or institution, particularly a government, albeit ostensibly democratic, in fact falls short of fulfilling what are believed to be the principles of democracy.

This perforce made me ponder and reflect on the political situation prevailing in our own backyard. I started off the session with what I considered to be a humorous quip.

Yet, when all was said and done and proceedings neatly wrapped up, I ultimately could not but reach the unhappy but honest conclusion that, like it or not, Malta is in fact experiencing a democratic deficit of sorts. This in itself is worrying.

Although it is true that the government did not lose the vote of no confidence in Parliament on January 26, because the opposition motion did not garner the required level of support, yet, at the same time, neither can the government morally lay claim to having won it.

In this, the Leader of the Opposition was correct to have remarked soon after the count that the fact remains that, put to the test, the government had not convincingly demonstrated it commands a positive majority in Parliament.

That is not, of course, to say that the government as presently constituted is illegitimate, illegal or unconstitutional in any way, shape or form. Nothing of the sort. However, democracy is fashioned out of much more sensitive skin than that and its refined values, which we all cherish, happen to transcend issues of crude legalities.

The plain truth, which the Prime Minister ought to face up to, is that if the government is, for whatever reason, unable to command a majority in the House, or, even worse, succumbing to blackmail, forcing it to resort to hidden compromise or concessions to regain that support, then he really has no other democratically credible or viable option open to him other than to pay that dignified call of duty to the President of the Republic.

Once again, due weight must be given to another statement by the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that any endorsement of the Prime Minister by the Nationalist Party general conference is no substitute for government support in that highest institution of the land, which is Parliament.

Malta has, so far, succeeded in weathering the bleak global economic situation confronting us pretty well, in no small part thanks to sound government policies. The Prime Minister understandably keeps reminding us both of the situation around us and also of his government’s successes in managing it. However, while it is admittedly a serious matter, the prevailing economic problems are completely irrelevant to the democratic equation.

Even a dictator could very easily seek to justify hanging on to power ad infinitum for reasons and perceptions such as these.

Beyond all economic considerations, yet, ironically, also because of them, the nation is vitally and urgently in need of removing instability, which uncertainty breeds. Stability is, after all, that fundamental building block essential for any investment and economic growth.

The Nationalist Party, to its utmost pride and credit, has always been on the right side of democracy throughout its long and cherished history. May those now at its helm, walking the dangerous tightrope of neither here nor there, always remember this and may history and posterity judge them kindly. They may yet come to be rewarded or punished by the electorate precisely for what they do or do not do now.

Dr Dingli is a lawyer.