The Nationalist Party’s former media chief and Adrian Delia’s right-hand man, Pierre Portelli, will not contest the role of PN Secretary-General currently held by MP Clyde Puli, he has told this newspaper.
The position will be up for grabs in the coming weeks during a round of internal mid-term internal party elections, a contest that will most likely revive the internal power-struggle between the Party’s on and off warring factions.
Asked by The Malta Independent on Sunday to confirm or deny rumours circulating to the effect that people within the party are pressuring him to return, in the role of Secretary-General, Portelli confirmed that he has had several calls for him to contest the post, as has happened in the past, but he insists he has no intention whatsoever to return to politics any time soon.
“Now that I’ve returned to the private sector, I intend keeping it that way,” he told this newspaper yesterday.
Portelli, a former Content and Business Director at Standard Publications before he joined the PN in the wake of the 2017 general election, resigned from his role as Executive Chairman of Media.Link Communications, the PN’s media arm, and departed the political scene following a bitter spat with rebel MPs who had attempted to oust PN leader Adrian Delia after a humiliating defeat at the MEP and Local Council elections last in June.
Perceived as the architect of Delia’s ‘New Way’, Portelli had bowed out of politics claiming that “the PN needs to cleanse itself from people of bad intent.”
Asked if he supports Puli’s intention to recontest the Secretary-General post, Portelli didn’t mince his words: “Clyde needs people of the calibre of Francis Zammit Dimech to help him, not to contest him. The PN needs to learn from its past mistakes.
“When Lawrence Gonzi lost Joe Saliba as Secretary-General he, and the PN, paid an undeserved and hefty political price. The same goes for Simon Busuttil when he gave up Chris Said.
“Both Saliba and Said were replaced by people who lacked strategy and foresight and we all know how that played out. The role of Secretary-General is amongst the most important in the life of a political party and Clyde has the acumen and the brains to fulfil that role with all the challenges that come with it,” Portelli insisted.
However, media reports have claimed that former minister and member of the European Court of Auditors Louis Galea, who is currently leading a political restructuring exercise within the PN, believes that the party’s Secretary-General should no longer hail from the ranks of the party’s Parliamentary Group.
Portelli, however, disagrees: “Why would a political party limit its options?” he asks. “When I was expected to run for the post of Secretary-General in 2017, I had approached Clyde and told him that, considering the climate within the party after the acrimonious leadership contest, the next Secretary-General needed to be from within the Parliamentary Group so as to be able to bridge between the party’s different characters.
“Clyde took the challenge and never stopped working, day and night, to achieve that goal. The idea that having a Secretary-General who is not an MP would give better results is baseless.
“Paul Borg Olivier and Rosette Thake were not MPs but, unlike Joe Saliba, the party didn’t achieve much under their tenure because the circumstances were different and they didn’t possess the strategic skill sets needed for the job.
“On the other hand, both Louis Galea and Lawrence Gonzi were MPs while also holding the office of Secretary-General, and they proved to have been successful in their respective roles.
“Defining success in the political realm is not a simple game of sums. When Louis Galea was Secretary-General and an MP, the PN didn’t win the 1981 election but it sure succeeded in becoming the country’s biggest political force,” Portelli claimed.
“This is why the party shouldn’t place itself in a straightjacket, but, rather, leave all its options open for what may be needed under different circumstances.”
So does the former PN media chief think Francis Zammit Dimech ought to give up on his Secretary-General ambitions?
According to Portelli: “Francis is one of the most loyal and charming politicians I have had the privilege to work with, within the PN. He is greatly needed in the Party structures but not as Secretary-General, as that would disrupt the foundations built by Clyde and the rest of the leadership team over the past two years.
“It would also give false hope to PN supporters, since we just might be one or two years away from another snap election.”
Portelli advises Puli, a long-time friend and former colleague who appears to be up against the ropes with his coveted role at stake: “Clyde has been through a lot. He has not only restructured the Secretary-General’s office, bridged daily with all members of the Parliamentary Group and coached a new leader who came from outside politics, but he also led an MEP and Local Councils election campaign with the smallest budget allocated by the Party in recent years.
“He practically lives at Dar Centrali, facing daily challenges with very few resources at hand. An irresponsible Secretary-General whose re-election is imminent would have spent a fortune on the recent Independence Celebrations to bolster his prospects.
“Instead, Clyde organised a humble event, placing the Party’s financial interests ahead of his career and pride. He should be given the chance to finish what he started, but to do that he needs to smile more and take time to explain his decisions for people to understand what lies beneath the massive task of running a party like the PN.”