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The petition to stop petitions

Original post published on the Sunday Circle

There are two fundamental issues at stake around the discussion on the spring-hunting referendum.

The first one is whether spring-hunting is a minority right which ought to be protected from being changed by a majority. The second one is whether 104,293 persons, or any other number of persons for that matter, should be able to stop or change a democratic process such as an abrogative referendum.

The first issue has been tackled in various articles. Rights are defined by universal conventions and declarations, and spring-hunting is not one of them. Minorities too are defined in our Constitution as being groups identified by "gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, colour, language, ethnic origin, disability. religion or belief or political or other opinion." Protection of minorities is also generally understood to mean protection from discrimination. A law on spring-hunting is not discriminatory. It either allows spring-hunting for everyone, including those who disagree, or bans it for everyone, include those who support it. So it is logically evident that spring-hunting is not a right, hunters are not a defined minority, and the abrogation or not of the spring-hunting derogation from our laws involves no discrimination on a particular minority.

Spring-hunting is at best a privilege granted by society. Unfortunately, it seems that the hunter's continuous political blackmail and increasing demands have led us to a backlash. Issues like the lack of enforcement, the government's acceptance to change the law to now allow hunting also on Sundays and public holidays when families could be out enjoying the countryside, and other decisions, have tipped the delicate balance between hunters and the rest of society so much against society that the people are reacting. Enough reaction was generated to have more than 40,000 people sign the call for a referendum. Society giveth the privilege, society taketh away. May that be a warning to other such bullying lobby groups that when their political blackmail knows no bounds, Maltese society has a democratic tool by which it can fight back.

This does not affect "minorities" mentioned on banners during the walk: "offroad enthusiasts, horse racing enthusiasts, feast enthusiasts, karozzini owners, fishermen and gay people." First of all, as already explained, the rights of minority groups like gay people are already protected by the Constitution. The Referenda Act already precludes any referendum which can curb their rights from being held. Secondly, the other examples reduce the notion of "minority" to the absurd. It basically eliminates any possibility of a referendum being called by the people, as every decision affects a "minority". Contrastingly, this means that while decisions affecting these "minorities" could still be changed by laws enacted or abrogated by Parliament, by politicians, they could not be pushed for by direct, democratic, civil action by the people if they deem that politicians are refusing to take action.

So rather than protecting the rights of minorities, the only privilege this petition aims to protect is the privileged position of those who are able to keep politicians in their tight control. It would ironically be using a tool designed to give more power to the people for the opposite end: to take power further away from them.

For these reasons, I find it shameful that some of our politicians are supporting this in Parliament. And whilst in the spring-hunting referendum I would probably vote in favour of a controlled and limited season unless I am convinced that this cannot be enforced, I fully support the Opposition and AD in their stand against restricting the people's civil and democratic right of calling referenda. That's what a true European liberal democracy is all about.

The Prime Minister had committed himself not to restrict or interfere in the referendum process. I truly hope he keeps his word.

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