Busuttil proved he is the undisputed leader of the PN

Only time will tell whether Busuttil’s decision was a wise move, but there is no denying that he was bold and courageous. It takes guts to do what Busuttil did this week

There is only one PN leader and his name is Simon Busuttil.

This is what Busuttil must have had in mind when he implemented a major reshuffle in his shadow cabinet. After months of, at times justified, criticism that he lacked the assertiveness required to implement radical shake ups within the PN; and after being criticised for lacking a real and effective hold over his party, the real Simon Busuttil stood up.

It was change or be damned for Busuttil. On Thursday, he chose change and what a courageous move it was. 

Perceived by many to be the next step in rebuilding the Nationalist Party, Simon Busuttil’s major reshuffle in his shadow cabinet demonstrated his willingness to take bold action in what has been, undoubtedly, his strongest sign of renewal since taking the helm of the PN.

Only time will tell whether Busuttil’s decision was a wise move, but there is no denying that he was bold and courageous. It takes guts to do what Busuttil did this week – especially if you are at the helm of a party which is in the process of rebuilding itself after two successive disasters at the polls.

He risks a backlash from internal quarters, too. Those who did not make it to the front bench are, understandably, hurt. Most of them have sacrificed their professional career and given their all to the party. They might perceive Thursday’s reshuffle as the end of their political career; but for most of them it shouldn’t be so. They have an important role to play in their assigned new roles and most of them are known for their political resilience.

They would do well to focus their time and energy on their new roles and work, tirelessly, within their constituency. I trust that in time they too will come to realise that if the PN wants to stand a chance of giving the government a strong and formidable Opposition it needs to take bold and courageous decisions. By the looks of it, the major reshuffle in the shadow cabinet was one of them. 

Rebuilding the party in his own way

Simon Busuttil has the arduous task of rebuilding his party from scratch. Thanks to his assertive Secretary General, Chris Said, he managed to put the party finances back on track and the latter also made a radical shake up within the party’s media. Said is definitely an asset for the PN. He should now, as the new shadow minister for Gozo – his constituency – focus more of his time and energy in replicating what he did at the PN headquarters: picking up the pieces and rebuilding the PN in what was, once, a stronghold for the party – Gozo. I trust he will. 

Rebuilding the PN and making it, once again, the people’s party is no mean feat. After 25 years in government, and despite Lawrence Gonzi’s success in keeping Malta’s economy in shape, the rot had set it.

Busuttil’s task was to rebuild the PN and squeeze the stuffiness out of the party. His admirable and courageous decision of resigning his MEP seat to deputise for Lawrence Gonzi when it was screamingly obvious that the PN was heading for a catastrophic defeat at the polls, did little to justify his cause or strengthen his image when he took the helm of the PN a few months later. His early months, especially his initial poor performance at public speaking and in challenging the government, even cast strong doubts on his ability to lead the PN, let alone rebuild it.

However, in time, he started to prove his critics wrong. He is rebuilding the party in his own way: not the bully and ruthless style often associated with his political counterpart, but in a calm and collected manner by taking his time to take the decisions he deems crucial to rebuild the party. Those who have, so far, written him off as a hopeless political strategist were, this week, proved wrong. 

He can be bold with his side, too

People expected more from the PN. They were after visible and substantial changes. The changes to the party statute and the setting up of policy fora were positive and much needed changes, but the electorate was, and to a certain degree is, expecting bolder actions from Simon Busuttil. People expected Busuttil to demonstrate that he is the undisputed leader of the Nationalist Party. This week he did so – loud and clear. With his shadow cabinet reshuffle, Busuttil showed that he can be bold with his side, too. 

Whether he maintains this momentum in 2015 and beyond is anybody’s guess – but if he fails to do so, then he’s got only himself to blame. 

Despite recent major gaffes by the Muscat administration – Malliagate being a case in point – the PN seems to have failed in making major inroads to narrow the gap with Labour and, most importantly, between Busuttil and Muscat. 

Uphill for the PN

2015 is crucial for the PN and there’s no doubt that it’s uphill for Busuttil and his leadership team. Many believe that it is an impossible task for Busuttil to pull it off in 2018 and return the PN to government. That, on its own, is already an uphill struggle for the PN.

Add to that government appeasement on various issues and matters, its relatively good management of the economy and Busuttil’s pre-electoral prophecies of a Greek-style bailout if Labour is elected having, so far, failed to materialise, coupled with the fact that Joseph Muscat still enjoys huge popularity among the electorate – even if that of his cabinet of ministers is in a freefall, and Busuttil’s becomes a mammoth task.

However, Busuttil seems determined to rebuild the PN within the next three years and make it electable again. He shows no signs of giving up. He is stubborn, in a positive way. Of course, it is crucial that this year he starts to flesh out the PN’s proposals on bread and butter issues. People expect more substance, they also want Busuttil to acknowledge more the mistakes made by the PN in the recent past; they also expect the PN to take a stand on issues that matter to their daily lives and their environment. Businessmen expect the PN to have, once again, a pro-business approach. It is a tall order for Busuttil and his party.

However, this week’s shadow cabinet reshuffle gave hope to many disgruntled Nationalists and switchers that the new PN leader does, after all, have it in him to be bold and courageous. 

Back to the drawing board for Labour 

On Thursday, Busuttil said that his shadow cabinet reshuffle was but another step in the process of rebuilding the PN in order to turn it once again into a major political force to be reckoned with, and one that is able to present a serious challenge at the next general election as a prospective alternative government.

I could hear many a disgruntled Nationalist Party supporter, ‘switchers’ and those who, at the last general election, voted Labour because they had had enough of the PN, breathe a sigh of relief.

Not so Joseph Muscat. Busuttil’s shadow cabinet reshuffle must have taken Labour by surprise. They wrote him [Busuttil] off too soon. It’s back to the drawing board for Muscat and his party.

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

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