[QODLink]
Europe
Malta votes in divorce referendum
Islanders cast their ballots to decide whether divorce should be legalised in the predominantly Catholic nation.
Last Modified: 28 May 2011 11:57
Maltese enter a voting site in Valetta to cast their ballots on the controversial referendum. [AFP]

Citizens of Malta are voting in a referendum on whether or not to legalise divorce.

The referendum asks the Mediterranean island's nearly 400,000 mainly Catholic voters whether parliament should introduce a new law that would allow couples to obtain a divorce after four years of separation.

A pre-poll opinion survey also found around 40 per cent of the electorate undecided over the issue.

By early afternoon, just over 34 per cent of eligible voters turned up to cast their ballots, government officials told the AFP news agency.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, a member of the ruling centre-right Nationalist Party, shocked his own party in July last year when he presented a bill in parliament for the introduction of a conservative form of divorce.

Lawrence Gonzi, the country's prime minister, who is strongly against divorce but lacks room to manoeuvre because his government only has a one-seat majority in parliament, eventually decided that the people's judgement on the matter must be decided in a referendum.

Opposition leader Joseph Muscat has said he is strongly in favour of divorce, even if he is "the last man standing".

"The divorce referendum is a vote for modernity and an opportunity for those whose marriage has broken down to be able to start afresh," Muscat said on Thursday.

For Gonzi, however, divorce offers "no solutions" for society.

"We have to help people whose marriage has broken down, but we also have to help couples prepare better for marriage so that marriages do not break down and the value of an indissoluble marriage is bequeathed to the young," Gonzi said.

The vote is seen as a test of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where at least 72 per cent of people consider themselves consistent observers of the faith.

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
Featured
Anti-government secrecy organisation struggling for relevance without Julian Assange at the helm.
After decades of overfishing, Japan is taking aim at increasing the number of bluefin tuna in the ocean.
Chinese scientists are designing a particle-smashing collider so massive it could encircle a city.
Critics say the government is going full-steam ahead on economic recovery at the expense of human rights.
Spirits are high in Scotland's 'Whisky Capital of the World' with one distillery thirsty for independence.
join our mailing list