Frank Psaila

Glimmers of light

The Nationalist Party must stand for prosperity and stability

Frank Psaila
21 June 2017, 7:30am
It could be that much of this unexpected support for Labour was an expression of ‘it feels right to vote Labour, now that the economy is doing well and Labour did not upset the applecart’. But Labour’s appeal could go deeper
It could be that much of this unexpected support for Labour was an expression of ‘it feels right to vote Labour, now that the economy is doing well and Labour did not upset the applecart’. But Labour’s appeal could go deeper
For those of us who voted for the Nationalist Party, the election result was a shattering disappointment. It was not the outcome that we were expecting. The Nationalist Party suffered its worst electoral defeat. But it is the new reality and it is one that the Nationalist Party has to make the best of.

As the first shock fades, I am finding that there are glimmers of light amid the gloom. Here are my top six.

1. Earlier this week I took the personal initiative of launching a listening exercise, through workshops and focus groups, to encourage people to come forward and articulate their vision for the Nationalist Party. Although I am not an employee of the Nationalist Party, and have no official role within it, I felt that reconnecting with the people is urgent and crucial. I received hundreds of emails and messages from people wanting to take part in this exercise. It’s encouraging to have this feedback despite the shocking defeat.

2. A friend of mine, who switched political allegiance in 2013 and has since voted Labour, told me that the election result saddened him. Despite voting Labour at the last election, he felt that the party which he once believed in, and which secured Malta’s rightful place in the EU, did not deserve to be humiliated in this manner. Deep within him lies a shred of sympathy for the party which, not so long ago, he believed in and voted for.  He reminds me that the scale of defeat could actually be an opportunity for the Nationalist Party. Many did not predict the scale of Labour’s victory, and level headed people, who fear that Labour’s victory might go to its head, might want to cut it down to size. That’s an opportunity for the Nationalist Party – to reach out to those who deserted it and win new voters. 

3. Everybody is now saying that ‘the Nationalist Party was wrong to fight the election on corruption’. That’s the phrase of the moment. But it’s not the case. It was hardly unreasonable for the party to lash out at the Labour government’s lack of good governance. It was the conduct of the Nationalist Party’s campaign that, with hindsight, was wrong. And then, the almost unmentionable truth is that campaigns rarely, if ever, determine the outcomes of elections.

Muscat called a snap election in the comfortable knowledge that the numbers were in his favour, which explains why pollsters are now safely concluding that people had made up their minds long before the electoral campaign started. What the Nationalist Party failed to foresee was that as long as the economy was doing well, many fail to comprehend the devastating effect corruption has on their jobs and standard of living. Had the economy been performing badly, the outcome of the election would have probably been different.

In any case, the Nationalist Party needs to keep harping on the principles of transparency and good governance (although that should not be its sole focus), the elephant is still in the room. No fewer than four magisterial inquiries are being held into grave allegations of corruption and financial wrongdoing by the Prime Minister’s closest aides, and allegations that his spouse held a secret offshore company in Panama. And then, 45% of the electorate strongly felt that good governance, or the lack of it was a key issue. That is a sizeable chunk of the electorate which cannot be ignored.

4. It could be that much of this unexpected support for Labour was an expression of ‘it feels right to vote Labour, now that the economy is doing well and Labour did not upset the applecart’. But Labour’s appeal could go deeper. Demographic changes would probably show that, over the years, Labour’s core vote increased. Following the defeat there have been calls (and about time too) for the party to commission a scientific demographic study which would give it the information necessary to identify societal changes and how to address them. This is crucial if the Nationalist Party is to have a clear understanding of peoples’ needs and aspirations. I’m told that the party is taking this decision on board.

5. Following the election, hundreds of young people approached the Nationalist Party offering their help. The political awakening of young people is a good thing. The Nationalist Party needs to regenerate and, on certain matters, re-invent itself.  This can only happen if you have young people, with their radical ideas, on board. I had thought that this lesson had been learnt years ago, but obviously it needed rubbing in. Political parties need to engage with the young if they are to remain relevant. This week, I met a middle-aged man, who’s been active in the Nationalist Party since his teens, who told me that his daughter, a first time voter, refused to vote because ‘neither of the parties attracted her; neither with their proposals nor with their people’. Serious action on this front would be welcome.

6. It would be a mistake, and grossly unfair, to dismiss Simon Busuttil’s contribution to the Nationalist Party which he led since 2013. True, political leaders are measured against election results. This explains Busuttil’s sensible decision to step down following the election, because a fatally weakened leader cannot face the electorate with the confidence that is expected from him.

However, it must be acknowledged that during his short-lived tenure at the helm of the party Busuttil effected much needed changes and reforms. Notably, putting the party’s financial situation in order. Today, notwithstanding the election result, the party’s ‘machine’ is in a much better state than it was when Busuttil took over. Of course, it needs to be readjusted, repositioned and, following Busuttil’s resignation, steered in a different direction.

Unfortunately, Busuttil shall be remembered for having failed to put his party back in government, although that was a widely acknowledged long shot when he stepped in to lead it. However, he gave his all to the party and laid the foundations which the new leadership would be well placed to build upon. There is going to be a change in the party’s leadership – across the board. This should be an excellent opportunity to discern what the Nationalist Party stands for and how to articulate its identity through its vision.

Whoever takes the Nationalist Party forward has to reconnect the party with the people. It means opening the party to people of good will who are keen to contribute. With an agile and imaginative leader, notwithstanding the mammoth task which awaits him or her, much of this could be achieved. Frequently, the Nationalist Party has been accused of stubbornness and inflexibility. This is an image which the new leadership must shed. The party must stand for prosperity and stability.

Focus groups, workshops, demographic studies, and a stronger digital platform are all good initiatives which must happen. But ultimately the situation calls for leadership. If the new leadership fails to embrace societal changes and offer a clear alternative to Labour, the drift towards Labour will strengthen. These are interesting times for the Nationalist Party. It should make the most of them.

Frank Psaila presents Iswed Fuq Abjad on Net TV

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