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Bird hunters win popular vote in Malta

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Popular vote in Malta 2015. Photo by Bruno Kaufmann

Bird hunters win popular vote in Malta


With an extremely close result, Maltese hunters have won the referendum to ban birdhunting in springtime. On Saturday, 11 2014, the Mediterrean island nation of 450,000 people faced a dramatic voting day. For the very first time since gaining independence from Britain in 1964, citizens were challenging the power of political parties by triggering a referendum.  

For millenia Malta's tiny area of only 316 square kilometres has been of great interest to all kinds of powers as a sort of naval base; and still today the island works as a magnet to rich expats, sunseeking tourists and poor refugees, who are often rescued by Maltese naval units on their dangerous crossing from Africa to Europe. The same route is taken by millions of migrating birds each year as they pass over Malta in spring and autumn. However, as Malta has a derogation from the pan-European birdhunting ban, many turtle doves and quails are shot down before being able to breed further north.

Referendum on bird hunting in Malta 2015, Photo by Bruno Kaufmann

This practice, which involves up to 10,000 hunters in Malta, has been heavily criticised for decades. But it was only after the last general election in 2013, when the small Alternattiva Demokratika party, a Green party without any seats in the national parliament, became the first political group in the country to use a relatively new provision in the Maltese constitution: the right to abrogate an existing law, by first gathering the signatures of at least 10 percent of the electorate, and then holding a national referendum.

“Now thousands of birds will be shot down again on their way from Africa to Europe”, said Cassola, the 62-year old founder and chairman of Malta’s third political force, Alternattiva Demokratika.

Direct Democracy in Malta

In the last 15 years however, Malta has begun its journey into modernity with a series of consultative popular votes, including EU membership (2003) and the abolition of the ban on divorce (2011). Recently, the Maltese parliament also approved progressive legislation on same-sex marriage and anti-discriminatory measures in respect of lesbians, gays and transgender people. This historic popular vote was taking place this weekend, on April 11, together with the local elections. 340 000 Maltese were eligible to vote.

With a majority of 50.44 percent the hunters won the popular vote. That was close because 49.56 percent of the participants voted against birdhunting in Malta.

It was the very first binding referendum in Malta triggered by the citizens themselves. Introduced in 1996 by the then ruling nationalist Christian Democrats as a possible safeguard for future years in opposition, the citizens’ right to an (abrogative) referendum (Art. 13 of the Constitution) had never previously been used.


This article contains parts of “How Arnold of Malta Changed his Country” and “Historic popular vote underway in Malta”, published by Bruno Kaufmann on

Further information:

ondirect democracy in Malta these the Direct Democracy Navigator

about "Spring hunting Malta and citizens call arms"  


Edited by Felix Zimmermann


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