‘Rejuvenation of the PN’? Looks more like ‘payback time’, to me…

Try as I might, I just can’t envisage any possible end-game scenario, arising from that premise, that could possibly work out to Bernard Grech’s advantage

You’ve got to hand it to Bernard Grech, though. Anyone watching his defiant performance last Monday, could easily be forgiven for thinking that this week’s ‘mass-exodus’ – with no fewer than four (4) candidates, all withdrawing from the election on the same day – really was part of a grand, deliberate strategy, to somehow ‘rejuvenate’ that ailing party.

Or at least: that is how it might have looked, to anyone who hasn’t been following Maltese politics for the past four or five years… and even then: to anyone who can’t actually count.

For let’s be honest: when a ‘rejuvenation exercise’ manages to leave the party (on average) OLDER than it was before… we are obviously dealing with a whole new definition of chronology here.

Let’s take a look at the actual ages of those candidates, shall we? Starting with the ‘oldest’ by some distance: Mario Galea, who - at 59 - is not only six years shy of national retirement age; but he is also (almost) exactly as old as Eddie Fenech Adami was, when he lost the 1996 election (or, for that matter, Dom Mintoff, when he won in 1976).

To be fair: I do remember some talk – back in 1996 – along the lines that Eddie Fenech Adami was ‘past it’, by that stage; and I can confirm, from my own memory, that some Nationalist really did expect him to ‘make way for new blood’.

And yet, this ‘geriatric 60-year-old’ still somehow had the political vigour, and vision, to not only get himself catapulted spectacularly back into power, a mere two years later… but also, to lead Malta into the EU in 2003 (when he himself was 67: a veritable ‘dinosaur’, by the latest chronological standards…).

Which is not to say, of course, that Mario Galea himself could realistically be expected to match Eddie’s achievements, had he chosen to carry on his political career (no offence, but we are talking about two considerably different contexts here).

But still: the analogy illustrates a couple of small truisms, insofar as ‘age’ and ‘politics’ are concerned.

One: by no stretch of the imagination can 59 possibly be considered ‘too old’ to contribute in politics (I mean, just look at Bernie Sanders, for crying out loud!);

And two: ‘Age’ itself – in any context, but in politics more than most - means something slightly more than ‘the number of years that have elapsed since your birth’.

Ultimately, there is only one question that really matters, in any election campaign: not ‘how old are you?’, but ‘how young (or ‘fresh’, or ‘inspiring’, etc.) is your political vision for the country’?

This brings us to the other three; and here, we cannot even realistically discuss ‘age’ at all.

Clyde Puli was born in 1969, and Claudio Grech in 1974 - which makes them only a couple of years older, and younger, than myself (and, well, just look at me, will you? A ‘Flower of Youth’, if there ever was one…)

And as for Kristy Debono… wait for it… she’s only 40! That’s right, folks: this ‘old fossil’ of a Nationalist politician - who was deemed so ‘ancient’, that she felt she had to ‘make way for younger faces’ - is actually only one year older than Joseph Muscat, when he became the second youngest Prime Minister in Maltese history [the youngest being Sir Ugo Mifsud, in 1924, at just 35].

Not only that, but – Emergency Health Warning: people my age had better sit down and pour themselves a stiff drink, before proceeding any further – it turns out that Kristy Debono herself was only two years old, when Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’ single came out in 1984!

Honestly, though: how ‘old’ do you all feel now, eh?

All the same, however: 40 Kristy Debono remains… and while that may indeed have once been considered a ‘ripe, venerable old age’ (for anyone born at the end of the last Ice Age, around 13,000 BC )…. last I looked, we were living in 2022AD; when it is actually the age that most politicians’ careers are expected to BEGIN, not end.

In any case: I could go on like this all day: Grand Master La Vallette was over 80, when he repelled a Turkish invasion in 1565.

Do you reckon a 28-year-old would have been just as successful?] but let’s face it: there’d be no point, would there? We all know this has absolutely nothing to do with ‘age’, or (even less) ‘new faces’; for one thing, because… how could it, anyway, when only one young candidate has actually stepped forward, to replace the four ‘not-so-old’ ones who departed?

And besides: if the idea really was to reinvigorate the Nationalist Party, by weeding out all the antediluvian dinosaurs, then… well… why does the PN still resemble the set of ‘Jurassic Three: Divided Kingdom’ (complete with young, teenage candidates, all waiting their turn to be ‘eaten alive’ when the infighting begins in earnest?)

Why, in a word, are there still so many more, shall we say, ‘weather-beaten’ PN candidates – some of them considerably older than 59; and around four of whom were part of the (losing) leadership teams, in both 2013 and 2017 – while younger, still-active candidates are abandoning the party in droves?

Well, I reckon you already know the answer: and not just because one of those four – Mario Galea – has since ‘let the cat out of the bag’. With the possible exception of Claudio Grech (the only one who seems to have willingly participated in the ‘rejuvenation’ charade) all three of the candidates who abandoned the PN on Monday, had been - or still were - loyal to former leader Adrian Delia.

Conversely, this also means that the ones who remain – with the not-insignificant exception of Adrian Delia himself – are all loyal to Bernard Grech. Hmm. I suppose you can already see where this is all heading, right? But still: let’s follow it through all the same.

Of those three again, one - Mario Galea - claims to have been actually ‘forced out’ (and if his version is correct: quite unkindly, too); while the other two both chose to announce their own departure (Clyde Puli slightly more acrimoniously than Kristy Debono) in the form of ‘shocking’ Facebook posts, timed within minutes of each other, on the same day… which just so happened to be the first day of the entire campaign.

At this point, I don’t think you will need me to tell you that there is clearly some kind of strategy afoot; but judging by some the comments I’ve seen, the question of ‘whose strategy’ it is may not be quite so obvious.

For instance: I have lost count of comments which point towards some kind of intentional purge of Adrian Delia supporters: presumably, to ‘thin out the Delia herd’, so that – by 28 March – there will simply be none left to actually vote for, in the PN section of ballot sheet.

But I find that highly unlikely, myself: even just because that interpretation can only make sense, if Bernard Grech’s intention really were to utterly (but UTTERLY) destroy the entire Nationalist Party itself; almost in an ‘apres moi, la deluge’ kind of way….

Grech surely knows quite well that there is a small-but-significant segment of his own party’s support-base – spread out unevenly, across all 13 districts – which would sooner tear up their voting documents, than vote for his any member of his own faction.

Clearly, then, he needs to have ‘Team Delia’ candidates on the ballot sheet, come election day – and in all districts, too – even if he sticks only to his modest aim of ‘narrowing the gap’ (still less, if he actually intends to mount a serious challenge).

From that perspective, the departure of those three actually hurts Bernard Grech, far more than it hurts Adrian Delia… and it only follows that the future loss of any more pro-Delia candidates – assuming there even are any more left to lose – would only increase the electoral gap further.

BUT… that only holds good, for as long as Adrian Delia remains on that ballot sheet himself: and still contesting his own home territory of District 13. And if we really do get to that stage (which everything, so far, seems to be pointing towards) where Delia is, in effect, the only one of his own team actually left standing, on 28 March…

… then it would automatically become a direct contest between Adrian Delia (all on his ownsome); and – quite literally – the entire ‘Blue Heroes’ faction he has been at war with over the past five years.

Try as I might, I just can’t envisage any possible end-game scenario, arising from that premise, that could possibly work out to Bernard Grech’s advantage.

He would be faced with a stark choice: either to crush the Delia faction underfoot… but destroy the rest of the PN in the process; or else, suffer the humiliation of a direct defeat to Adrian Delia: in ‘single combat’, no less; and at the heart of the PN’s core district to boot.

Now: it might be too early to tell, whether this makes it a ‘co-ordinated strategy’ on Team Delia’s part, to exact revenge for what happened two years ago… or whether it is simply the prelude to a final, last-ditch attempt to oust Adrian Delia from the party, once and for all.

Either way, however: it’s ‘too early to tell’ for a reason. We are still on only Day Four, of a 33-day campaign… so it might be a good idea to just ‘fasten our seatbelts’, from now…