Anthony Manduca asked a number of former PN ministers, advisers and experts what they see as the immediate way forward for the Nationalist Party after the latest electoral drubbing.
‘Rethink, refound, rebuild and relaunch’
Former PN minister and general secretary
“There is no ‘immediate’ way forward. We cannot respond to the PN’s latest electoral defeat with the illusion that there is ‘quick fix’, something ‘out there’ that can instantly provide a solution. As I see it, the way forward for the PN consists of a ‘4 R’s’ process – rethink, refound, rebuild and relaunch.
We are facing a complex society. We cannot exist only for the moment, unmindful of the past and uncaring of the future. There is the need for a political process, an integrated approach, to regain some balance, first to construct the necessary unity around a cohesive vision and strategy. I agree that a report analysing the defeat will not get us far. We need a much bigger conversation.
We need calm, patience, for a slow rebuilding process. Real change happens bit by bit. One cannot force one’s seed of potential to grow until it is ripe and ready. I heard it said that ‘in the soil of the quick fix, is the seed of a new problem.’ We need to create an atmosphere of trust.
Way forward? Back to the drawing board for a re-founding of the party. Easy? No. Is there the will for it? We’ll find out.
This would be the best birthday present we can give the party on its 140th anniversary next year. This is what we also owe our beloved country and people.”
‘The eventual solutions are not going to come from the past’
Richard Cachia Caruana
Former Ambassador to the EU and adviser to Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi
“Whether we like it or not, a political party exists to win elections. It can have the best policies in the world but if it cannot win an election to put those policies into effect then it has failed. When the gap in votes is very great it is also clear that the problem is not only organisational but that there are personality and policy issues too.
The Labour Party has just won two large electoral victories – that for members of the European Parliament with a 16% advantage over the Nationalist Party and that for local councillors with an 18% advantage. Labour is quite rightly celebrating but its leaders will be admitting privately that the size of the victories was also due to what the PN voter base decided to do last week. A sizable minority reached the conclusion that it was more important to send a message to the PN leader, secretary general, executive committee and general council than to fully challenge Labour.
And their message was simple, they do not believe that today’s Nationalist Party can win a general election. To long-serving supporters like me, this is a very bitter pill to have to swallow but swallow it we must. We can only be grateful that the PN voter base respects the Nationalist Party enough to tell it to get its house in order rather than just writing it off once and for all at the next general election.
The party must now show that it has heard the message, understood it and is totally committed to change whatever needs to be changed, starting immediately. There can be no ‘business as usual’. There can be no delays. There can be no sacred cows. Furthermore, the eventual solutions are not going to come from the past but from the future and anyone who wishes to move the clock back, either in terms of personalities or policies, has to understand that they are part of the problem.”
‘The PN must redefine some of its basic policies’
Professor of Philosophy, University of Malta, former PN MEP candidate
“Following its crushing defeat at the polls, the Nationalist Party must redefine some of its basic policies in order to make itself re-electable. And it must do this whether or not it decides to change its leader. Let me mention a number of areas where I think such rethinking is necessary.
In a climate of economic prosperity and negligible unemployment, the PN must show that whatever changes to the government’s economic model it intends to introduce will produce roughly the same rate of economic growth while ensuring a fairer and more equitable distribution of wealth. Above all, it will need to convince the large swathes of Labour voters in Labour strongholds, especially those in the lower income bracket that they will do better if such changes are implemented.
Where the environment is concerned, the PN must admit that decisions made in the past by some of its representatives have contributed in no small way to the production of the present state of environmental degradation. It will also need to spell out in no uncertain terms how it intends to stop the rot.
One of the main causes of air pollution and respiratory diseases is the huge volume of traffic clogging our roads and emitting poisonous fumes. There will have to be a sea-change in people’s ideas if public transport is ever to replace the private car. Here again, the PN needs to put forward concrete proposals for dealing with the problem – something it hasn’t done so far with any degree of success.
The PN must also make its position clear regarding immigration. Too many conflicting ideas were bandied about during the party’s campaign, and an opportunity was lost to combat racism and promote ways of integrating migrants into the community. This is another issue over which the PN must carry out some radical rethinking in order for its elected representatives to be able to put forward innovative suggestions in European forums whenever the need arises.
In a society that has witnessed such a radical transformation from traditional patterns of behaviour to more cosmopolitan life-styles, the PN needs to revamp its means of communication in order to project a more vibrant image of itself to all sectors of the population, especially the young.”
‘Conservative, liberal and green forces should group together’
Former PN minister and European Commissioner
“The latest election result is not so much a Labour victory as it is a PN defeat. The single most determining factor is the large number of voters who did not cast their vote and who are assumed to be largely PN sympathisers, especially since they hail mainly from areas that have traditionally voted for the PN.
I firmly believe that the party should immediately carry out a deep analysis of the causes behind such an electoral defeat and set a short deadline by when such an analysis should be finalised and made public. I also believe that the party leader should himself pledge to seek a vote of confidence from the highest organ within the party, the General Council, immediately after the results of the analysis are out.
The whole process needs to be over and done with by the end of this year if there is to be a decent chance for the party and its leader, whether it is Dr Delia or someone new, to achieve an electoral success in 2022.
I also believe that serious consideration should be given to the formation of alliances that group together conservative, liberal and green forces under one overarching structure. In this way the prospects for an alternative governing majority become much more real.”
‘The party is coming across as a collection of amateurish prima donnas’
Former PN minister
“First of all, the factions within the PN should tread carefully and avoid knee jerk reactions at all costs. Alas, for some this advice is already too late!
Secondly everybody in the PN should swallow their pride and forget their pet hates and concentrate on the job of behaving like a responsible party in Opposition – rather than bickering about whatever they disagree about within the PN itself. The party is coming across as a collection of amateurish prima donnas trying to outdo each other by loudly repeating the same ineffective mantras. This nonsense has to stop.
The PN is facing a dilemma: removing Adrian Delia will only serve to increase the anger of the grassroots that elected him PN leader while keeping him is seen as an ‘affront’ of those who fought tooth and nail against his bid – and lost.
The solution does not lie in changing the leader but in everybody coming to their senses and realise why the PN is losing ground – not to the Labour Party this time but because many PN supporters did not bother to vote.
The PN election campaign was amateurish and did not transmit a clear message as to why people should choose to vote for PN candidates. But now the PN should look forward rather than waste time on recriminations.
The PN should start thinking of preparing for an intelligent electoral campaign in three years’ time and for this it certainly needs expert advice. They have to start working on this now, in spite of the fact that in the last 15 years the party’s finances went from bad to worse to shambolic.”
‘Adrian Delia should resign’
Former editor, The Sunday Times of Malta
“Despite his best efforts, Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia has failed to stem his party’s 10-year decline. In last week’s European Parliament elections, the party declined further, to reach a nadir not seen since 1951.
The local election results, of which the loss of Valletta was the most symbolic, rubbed more salt into the PN’s wounds.
Delia not only failed to convince thousands of Nationalist-leaning voters, who preferred to stay at home, but also failed to make any inroads among Labour sympathisers and newly enfranchised young voters. I am sure, too, that a few PN sympathisers this time gave their first preference to third parties.
PN secretary-general Clyde Puli’s attempts to seek some consolation from the fact that the worst forecasts (a 72,000-vote gap between the two major parties) failed to materialise, since the gap was of ‘only’ 42,600, and Delia’s assertion that the PN is still the second largest party (ahead of Tal-Ajkla?) were pathetic, to say the least, and an insult to PN voters’ intelligence.
Delia and his supporters correctly argue that he was chosen to lead the PN democratically. Yet the fact remains that, for various reasons, he has not managed to unite the party behind him. Although he insists that his leadership can only really be tested at the next general election, the EP and local councils’ results point to only two alternatives for the PN leader.
As has been suggested elsewhere, Delia should resign and the party leadership temporarily entrusted to a veteran, widely respected PN figure until such time as a new leader is elected or, at the very least, Delia should ask for a vote of confidence from the party structures and resign if he does not obtain it convincingly.
Unless he takes one of these two options, Delia – and the party he leads – is bound to take a bigger battering come 2022.”
‘The PN needs to determine what it stands for’
Chairman of Misco consulting firm
“The Nationalist Party needs to stop being angry at the way people vote. The Nationalist Party does not have a right to government; but it has a duty to be a meaningful Opposition and a credible alternative government. Unless it does this, it cannot evaluate objectively the reasons for the result it obtained at the elections for the European Parliament.
Seeking to depict the results of these elections as ‘not as bad as we thought they would be’ will only do a disservice to the party members and Malta.
The Nationalist Party also needs to determine what it stands for. Unless the PN sets out clearly its vision for the country, it will not be possible for it to engage with the electorate. To set out its vision, it needs to establish what its own aspirations are and then engage with Maltese society. The opinion poll published by The Sunday Times of Malta last April indicated clearly that this engagement with the electorate was not present.”
Former PN general secretary Joe Saliba was also asked for his opinion on the way forward for the Nationalist Party, but while thanking the newspaper for seeking his views replied: “I prefer to provide my thoughts on the way forward to the party directly, rather than via the media.”
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