Fresh page for the country

Opinion: Bernard Grech manifests the humble demeanour we expect from those whose prime ambition is to serve

PN leader Bernard Grech
PN leader Bernard Grech

If the last three MaltaToday surveys are anything to go by, the Nationalist Party is moving forward and gradually shaping up to challenge the Labour behemoth for an alternative vision for this country. An alternative that we desperately need, both in terms of strategy and political decisions but most importantly on attitude.

To the keen observer, Robert Abela’s decision to run roughshod over thousands of preferences on the 7th district and hand-pick an MP after that Gulia charade, is not an isolated act. It is rather the hallmark of his method. He bulldozes above everyone and everything as if he is the illuminated hand of a higher calling. This attitude compounds the malaise already ingrained in his predecessor’s administration to keep us all in the dark on matters of primary public importance. If he treats with disdain the express choices of his party supporters on the 7th district, how will he treat the public’s right to see clearly into the building collapse which took a dear mother from her family, not to mention government’s own dealings with our money with Electrogas and Steward Healthcare?

In Abela’s view of the world we are to be his helpless subjects, predisposed to accept his choices, without questions. Well, in truth, for a good while it seemed that the majority actually was, but the tide is turning. The Nationalist vote is slowly coming together while the floating vote is coming to disdain a system of government characterised by arrogance and entitlement.

I would have said the tide would start turning from the working population over 35. They have to make amends with the short-sighted decision-making, with a looming Moneyval threat to thousands of jobs and the trickle effect that may provoke.

The last survey indeed indicates a switch in that sector, but an even greater switch in the youth population. For the first time in years, we are seeing the 16-35 voter turn attention to the PN as an alternative government. Less attached to the traditional party bonds and more receptive to the need for longer-term vision in politics, the younger generations seem to be yearning for a fresh page for the country.

A fresh page in the relation of government with the governed. We elect our government to serve the country not to rule it. The difference may seem slight but it translates into a whole different approach. For instance, when you serve, you heed to advise by health experts not fire them for having the courage to disagree with your decisions. When you serve, you bow your head to the choice of the electorate not organise decoy elections to then make your pick at your sole discretion. When you serve, you do not keep the governed in the dark on two contracts making up the chunk of public utilities – the Electrogas and the Steward healthcare concoctions.

An increasing number of Maltese now feel the need for this fresh page. The PN is edging closer to be able to provide that. We know very well the price to pay for a politics that rules out of touch with the citizen. While they strived to modernise the country and upgrade facilities and mentalities to a European Union member state, previous PN governments also threaded the dangerous line of the arrogance of power. But while PN allegedly got the virus after 25 years of government, Labour got it way, way, earlier in its day.

This week’s debate on gender quotas in Parliament illustrates the stark difference of approach. While the Prime Minister complains of his boredom having to listen to the opposition in Parliament debating the proposed bill, Opposition leader Bernard Grech compliments deputy PM Chris Fearne on his speech.

Grech in fact manifests the humble demeanour we expect from those whose prime ambition is to serve. Yes, anyone in the driving seat has to be assertive and clear in her or his direction, but dismissal of other’s opinions is not conducive to fruitful decision.

If anything, the elimination and denigration of opposing views is a good indicator to lack of self-confidence. Maybe that is what plagues the Prime Minister after all, the lack of self-confidence of taking over from the winner of the most corrupt politician award in 2019 knowing that none of his colleagues owe him anything for their seat. That may explain the obsession with handpicking out of the voting lists of 2017 after all.

For the PN, self-confidence is certainly not to be taken for granted. We need to continue to rebuild the party’s relationship with the electorate day after day, knocking all doors, speaking with everyone, disregarding no one. We are aware of our position of weakness competing with an incumbency which can silence, buy or ridicule opposition using all the resources of the state without much of a qualm on fairness and propriety. We are aware of the need to work harder and harder for the consent of the interested sectors of society, representing their ambitions more closely, more efficiently. It is that awareness of the daunting road ahead coupled with the energy of new and old committing to give a helping hand that is making the PN stronger, day after day.

Truth be said, the good will of all those wanting to see a modern management of this country, away from Labour’s blend of strongman populism, will not be enough unless it is channelled into concrete action. The disdain of the workers on a three-day week for Abela’s annoying boasting and the private disapproval of professionals across the board at labour’s playing around with institutions will not budge votes unless and until workers, businesses and professionals take up the cause of seeing through the change they expect on these islands. This brings me to a concluding appeal to the good willing; if you disapprove, do not keep silent. Complain, may it be to a labour politician, to a nationalist one or to anyone in between. Let it out with an NGO or spill the beans on Facebook or Twitter.

Let’s rock this boat, as otherwise we are heading for more of the same.

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