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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Simon Busuttil, one year on

Simon Busuttil has mountains to climb but Joseph Muscat’s honeymoon is long over" his appeal to the ‘soldiers of steel’ at the Bormla mass meeting in a bid at getting out the vote, speaks volumes.

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
6 May 2014, 7:50am
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil: still to convince a wider part of the electorate (Photo: Ray Attard)
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil: still to convince a wider part of the electorate (Photo: Ray Attard)
It took Simon Busuttil at least three months to adjust himself to the local political scene after nine years in the European Parliament. Until Joseph Muscat committed his first major political gaffe, the cash for citizenship scheme – Busuttil rose up to the occasion and proved his worth.

That was followed by another, major, political gaffe by the government – the LNG tanker which shall soon grace Marsaxlokk’s picturesque bay. Here, too, Busuttil proved his worth. Slowly, but surely, Busuttil started to prove himself as an effective leader and a thorn in government’s side.

Muscat tries to give the false impression that he considers Busuttil a non-starter. In fact he does not: if he did, he would not dedicate so much time mounting a massive mud-slinging campaign against him. Muscat was the second person to be elected MEP after Busuttil, and he always resented the fact that Busuttil was on the right side of the EU debate. He therefore does not under-estimate Busuttil in any manner, still less ignore him.

"The PN has rightly criticized government’s regressive planning policies. But much more needs to be done, not least an unconditional apology for the past mistakes committed"
Busuttil is proving to be gentlemanly in his behaviour, and a shrewd political strategist. But Muscat has proved to be a better communicator than the new PN leader – not because Busuttil is bad at communicating: he led the MIC campaign and did an excellent job at persuading the electorate that Malta’s place was in the EU – but because Muscat has tremendous means at his disposal. Busuttil needs time, and money to overcome this deficit. The latter will not happen any time soon.

The Nationalist Party has come a long way since the humiliating defeat at the polls a year ago, but it still has a long way to go. It has a lot of soul-searching to do on major issues – not least civil rights which is not only about rights, and obligations for same-sex couples as Labour would have us (conveniently) believe, but the rights and obligations of refugees and illegal migrants, too.

Migration has, and shall continue to be Malta’s foremost challenge. The Nationalist Party, which has always taken a humane approach on this matter, needs to show the way and come up with tangible solutions. We have a government which is unashamedly populist in this regard. I would have expected the PN and its leader to hound the Prime Minister, following the publication of a shocking report, by a refugee agency, which reveals that many migrants are forced to ask Maltese people to hail buses for them or face being left behind by discriminatory drivers. Public transport is government-owned, and the Prime Minister did not even have the decency to order an investigation on the matter.

"Victory by default will not happen in 2018. The Nationalist Party needs to convince the electorate that after only five years in opposition it can be trusted, again. This will take time, and a lot of convincing to do"
The PN has rightly criticized government’s regressive planning policies. But much more needs to be done, not least an unconditional apology for the past mistakes committed by successive Nationalist administrations with regards to certain planning decisions – although nothing beats this government’s, shocking, insensitivity towards planning and sustainable development after only 14 months in office.

Busuttil has a tall order – young people deserted the Nationalist Party in droves at the last general election, so did a significant portion of Malta’s middle-class. The Nationalist Party needs to win them over, although many have already come to regret their decision; but victory by default will not happen in 2018. The Nationalist Party needs to convince the electorate that after only five years in opposition it can be trusted, again. This will take time, and a lot of convincing to do.

Although Busuttil’s is a five-year project, the coming MEP elections are important for his leadership. Labour will certainly win a comfortable majority, but if Busuttil manages to secure for the first time ever, the third seat for the Nationalist Party, and Muscat ends up with a tighter margin than that in 2013, Busuttil would have a tighter grip over his party and parliamentary group.

The PN has the luxury of having two deputy leaders who appeal to different sectors of the electorate.  The PN should exploit further its dynamic leadership team. Mario de Marco is a natural to win back the middle class that deserted the PN; Beppe Fenech Adami is the right person to get out the vote and consolidate the party’s grassroots; PN secretary-general Chris Said is very much on the ball, and doing an excellent job reorganising the PN and sorting out its financial problems.

Busuttil has mountains to climb considering that he took the leadership of the Nationalist Party at a time when it was flat on its back. He is determined to succeed, and I trust he will. One thing is certain: Joseph Muscat’s honeymoon is long over; his appeal to the ‘soldiers of steel’ at the Bormla mass meeting last Thursday, in a bid at getting out the vote, speaks volumes

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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