by Dr Rebecca Mercieca – Junior Associate
Bill 119 entitled ‘an Act to amend the Constitution of Malta and other laws to ensure de facto equality between men and women in politics’ was introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms, on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance, and read the First time at the plenary session on the 12th March 2020 and was subsequently published on the Government Gazette last Tuesday 17th March 2020.
The objects and motives behind this Bill are to amend the Constitution of Malta and the General Elections Act by introducing temporary measures in the form of laws to ensure de facto equality between the sexes in politics. Notwithstanding, that the title of this Bill specifically makes reference to ‘men’ and ‘women’, the Bill also provides for candidates which identify as gender-neutral persons and for the purposes of this law, such candidates shall be counted with the under-represented sex if they are unelected.
Such measures are identified as being of a temporary nature since an expiration date of 20 years from the date of the coming into force of this law shall apply, this unless revoked or re-enacted in accordance with the Constitution.
Candidates elected by this mechanism will have their seats added to the House and will not replace elected candidates of the other sex. The candidates who shall be declared elected to fill in the additional seats created shall be those credited by the Electoral Commission at the last count with the highest of next higher votes without being elected.
This mechanism shall come into effective use when the number of elected candidates forming part of the under-represented sex (including those elected at a casual election) is less than 40% of all the Members of Parliament. In such case, the number of Members of Parliament shall increase by a maximum of 12 members of the under-represented sex, limiting the maximum total of the under-represented sex in the House, whichever way they are elected, to 40% of the total number of elected Members of Parliament making up the House.
The candidates elected by virtue of this law will then be apportioned equally between the absolute/relative majority party and the minority party.
This Bill also brings about amendments to the General Elections Act, such as the increase to the number of Electoral Commissioners from 8 to 10 members. The members of the Commission shall also reflect equal representation between sexes, as one sex is not to be represented by less than 4 members.
The amendments also introduce duties confined to the Commission involving the calculation of the under-represented sex elected to the House and the establishing of a percentage of seats attained by the under-represented sex.
The Bill denotes and explains the equation which is to be used by the Electoral Commission to calculate the number of seats which are to be added to the House in the event that the under-represented sex has less than 40% of seats in the House. This law also includes examples for calculating additional seats for the under-represented sex in terms of the newly proposed article (Article 52A) of the Constitution by using the equation:
Whereby A is the total number of seats attained by the under- represented sex; B is the total number of members elected to the House; X represents the additional seats being created in terms of proposed article to Constitution; and 0.40 is the denominator that represents the total number of seats, including the additional seats created in terms of newly proposed article 52A of the Constitution.
Hence the Commission would first be tasked with calculating the number of under-represented elected candidates into a percentage, then if such a percentage is below the 40% threshold, the additional seats to be assigned to the under-represented sex are calculated by the Commission by applying the equation indicated above.
Since women are the under-represented sex in the House, once enacted into Maltese law this Bill is expected to secure that 40% of the members of parliament will be women and gender-neutral persons, however it might also serve to equally represent males in Parliament if there ever comes the need.
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