A new beginning for the PN with Bernard Grech

Bernard Grech must douse the internal bickering immediately. He needs a strong hand. Will he be up to it? His predecessor was not and this led to his never having a real hold on the party establishment

Bernard Grech
Bernard Grech

Now that Bernard Grech has been appointed PN leader and leader of the Opposition, there is no doubt that the need for the dust to settle within the PN hierarchy is of vital importance.

Despite all the rancour during the ‘election campaign’ for PN leader, the former leader, Adrian Delia, has reacted to his defeat in a very honourable way. This should have been a sign to his supporters that opposing Bernard Grech at this stage unleashes even more harm to the PN. Currently, all its members need to overcome their personal prejudices and seek to present a united front: a party that concentrates at its job – that of holding government to task on its failures and that of presenting a new vision for Malta. The latter is of vital importance.

Persuading voters who voted Labour in the last two elections to switch their allegiance is no easy task. By now, it is obvious that the corruption issue will not do the trick so long as people’s lives are better than they used to be.

Moreover, Robert Abela is steering Labour to distance itself from the corruption mess that was created under the Joseph Muscat administration. Whether he will manage to cut off completely his administration from the obscenities of his predecessor’s administration without damaging the Labour Party in electoral terms – no easy task – is still to be seen.

For the PN, this is, indeed, a new beginning. Will Bernard Grech be up to his task?

The Malta Independent last Thursday reported that the new PN leader has warned MPs misusing social media that they would be disciplined. He was replying to questions from the press following a feud playing out on Facebook between his predecessor Adrian Delia and Jason Azzopardi.

As TMI reported, Jason Azzopardi had questioned on Facebook why Prime Minister Robert Abela did not want to meet Bernard Grech at Castille when he had held meetings with Delia at his office there. Delia reacted by telling Azzopardi that if he was trying to create friction between him and Grech, he will fail, telling Azzopardi: “Everyone is seeing the damage you are causing to the Nationalist Party. Stop your inventions and lies. And if you want scrutiny, start with your good self.”

Bernard Grech must douse this bickering immediately. For that he needs a strong hand. Will he be up to it? His predecessor was not and this led to his never having a real hold on the party establishment. For a raw beginner coming from outside the political milieu, disciplining seasoned politicians is not an easy task, more so if they supported his election bid.

Will Bernard Grech do it? He must, as otherwise he will face a fate similar to that of his predecessor. In Grech’s case, the psychology is even more complicated because he would have to discipline people who were amongst those who actually pushed for his astounding rise to the top.

The Times reported that when he was asked about how he would bring about unity in his ranks, Grech said it was crucial for the opposition not to be fragmented, saying that: “This will be achieved through good policies which will strengthen our credibility. I will ensure all MPs will be working hard, keeping in constant touch with the people and doing whatever necessary to have the right credentials for an alternative government.”

Good intentions, nice words with which no one can disagree. But they are much easier said than done, as Bernard Grech will soon find out.

The other most important item on Grech’s agenda is to create a vision for the future and then flesh out this vision with actual practical proposals. These would then be the basis of the PN’s electoral manifesto for the general election that looms ahead. Adrian Delia found himself all the time being hounded by the establishment of his own party and he could not pursue this objective properly without their support and contribution.

This is a hard nut to track, even for Bernard Grech. The job must be done while keeping in mind Robert Abela’s weaknesses, whether perceived or objectively true. I have already suggested that the PN should capitalise on the perception that Robert Abela’s government is inefficient. People perceive inefficiency and are negatively affected by it; much more than they perceive corruption and bothering about it, especially if they are financially well off themselves.

Recent events – such as the SOFA debacle – have given a lot of opportunities for the Opposition to reinforce the perception that Robert Abela’s team is plagued with inefficiency. But the PN has hardly done anything in this direction.

It is too early to judge Bernard Grech’s political acumen and competence. For that we have to wait and see.

Corrupt politicians

There seems to be an increase of cases of former politicians, including former ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents being accused of corruption after their term of office is over. Look at what has happened or is happening in democratic countries such as France, Italy, Malaysia and India – amongst other countries.

In the EU member states, there have been convictions for corruption of politicians in Hungary, Croatia and Romania as well – to say nothing of the incredible goings-on of prominent members of Spain’s royal family.

Some of the cases may even be considered trivial by Maltese standards. For example, Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) was last year sentenced to three and half years in prison on corruption consisting of abusing his position as the president of the council of the southern county of Teleorman to secure fake public administration jobs for two members of his party. They got the job and never went to work. Sounds familiar?

In the US, a number of State and local politicians have also been convicted for corruption. But this happens not only where the rule of law is always supreme but also in countries where such charges are made in a discriminatory fashion... politicians have been convicted for corruption in Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Egypt, the Philippines, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Taiwan, Turkey, and even Russia.

This is generally a good sign – the world is more interested in seeing justice done.

The idea that once a person has retired from politics, retributive justice is not important is one that has gone out of fashion everywhere.