As happens whenever there is an election, there is a debate going on right now about those who live, work or study abroad and their right to vote in Maltese elections without having to board a plane to do so. At the moment there is a petition going round which can be found here.
I believe everyone who wishes to do so, should have the facility to vote either by post or at an embassy, or even online. But, of course, no one has budged on this issue, and so we will once again see the “cheap flights” gimmick being used for those who are within easy access of Air Malta flight routes. Basically that encompasses most of Europe but not other areas such as the United Arab Emirates, for example, where there is a growing Maltese community. So this system, apart from being a financial burden on the national coffers, is also unjust.
Of course, if the community of ex-pats in Brussels/Luxembourg/London etc. really wanted the government to make absentee voting available, they could all join forces and adamantly refuse to use the cheap tickets. I’m pretty sure that would put a rocket under the authorities and the legislation would be enacted faster than you could say “vote for me”. But I’m also pretty sure that this will never happen.
As has been pointed out by some ex-pats themselves, if the cheap flights were to be removed in lieu of a more practical solution, the patriotic fervour of all those flocking to the airport to come and vote would be considerably dampened. That says a lot about why there has not been any move to change the status quo. It also says a lot about the ex-pats (at the time of writing only 244 have signed the above petition, and it is not surprising that several of them live in countries outside of Europe). As long as the “free holiday” option is available the voters will come in droves, jamming the Air Malta telephone lines as they clamour to be on those flights. Remove that attractive incentive, and then what? From what I’ve read online, it seems that a mere handful would even bother to tick their ballot paper from the comfort of their Brussels apartment.
There is another issue here which I’ve always found pretty significant. Most of the people working with EU institutions (who are always leading the stampede for those cheap flights) have absolutely no intention of EVER coming back to Malta permanently. You would think that their eagerness to vote would be matched by an eagerness to actually live with the consequences.