Only two competitors for PN leadership

Four candidates for the PN leadership, but only two competitors.

The surprise nomination in the forthcoming leadership contest for the Nationalist Party has to be Raymond Bugeja, a 61-year-old businessman and restaurant owner who - despite his good intentions - does not stand a chance of getting elected.

Readers will be surprised to learn that Bugeja had shown interest in standing for the Labour Party, reportedly asking the party if he could be guaranteed the position of finance minister if elected. Even his partner, property entrepreneur Sara Grech, had expressed interest in being a Labour candidate.

Shorn of the slogans, political programme and marketing campaign that Bugeja says he will not adopt in this leadership bid, it is hard to see what sort of factor this outsider candidate will put into play in a contest that is likely to be dominated by two strong personalities.

Until Mario de Marco presented his nomination on Friday, it seemed a foregone conclusion that deputy leader Simon Busuttil would be the next PN leader. But with the former minister now in the race, it is clear that Busuttil is in for a bumpy ride.

It is also clear that former foreign minister Francis Zammit Dimech's presence in the run-up to the election may dent more of Busuttil's support than de Marco's: the eventuality of a run-off between Busuttil and de Marco would see the latter scooping up the Zammit Dimech support, so the race is truly on.

From Simon to Francis

Busuttil, who vows to make the PN a 'people's party' once again, clearly has the backing of the party structures and the Lawrence Gonzi clan.

In the run-up to the election, he was appointed as Lawrence Gonzi's special envoy on the same day that Gonzi reconfirmed himself party leader in a one-horse race after suffering a debacle in parliament at the hands of Franco Debono. Despite his earnest bid to reconnect with civil society and the electorate, the PN still lost by a staggering 36,000 votes.

But even this has not been enough to put Busuttil off the leadership contest. "Everyone must carry the responsibility for that result and I am ready to do just that. The PN is now in Opposition and I am a member of the Opposition. However, one must also look at the roles which others played," Busuttil said.

Busuttil was elected as deputy leader on a platform promising the PN a fighting chance during the 2013 election. But he believes that this shouldn't automatically disqualify him from the leadership race. "Should these three months disqualify me from paying service to the PN? I don't agree with this argument, especially when considering this would also mean disqualifying ministers, parliamentary secretaries, parliamentary assistants and almost everyone from contesting," he said.

He also has warned the party councillors from electing somebody who does not have the necessary credentials for leadership. In a clear reference to Raymond Bugeja, he said it would be "a mistake for the party to elect someone without experience".

Busuttil's popularity with the 'floater' suffered a setback during the election where he seemed to display a robotic appearance and was criticised for his lack of collegiality. Even substance suffered, as he came across as a superficial and ill-prepared politician.

Francis Zammit Dimech is the 'honest' guy in the leadership contest but he is too representative of the past, a point which PN candidate Gejtu Vella underlined in a column he penned for the Independent, mocking Zammit Dimech's age (he is 58, and will be 63 in five years' time) when the former UHM secretary-general garnered a disappointing 229 first-count votes in the last elections.

Presenting his candidature, Zammit Dimech said: "We have a great challenge ahead of us to renew, strengthen and recover the trust of the Maltese and Gozitan people," pledging an open party that offers participation, transparency, responsibility and collective action, and an Opposition that is vigilant and ready to be an alternative government.

Until recently foreign minister, Zammit Dimech stepped into the shoes of Tonio Borg after he was appointed Commissioner to the European Union. Zammit Dimech wants to see the PN embark on a reach-out and membership drive, update its political programme to reflect "a precise illustration of Maltese society and its trends", improve the party's communication and the beleaguered finances, and also appoint a chief executive that would manage the party's non-political daily business.

He has pledged a "return to the party's roots" to bring the party structures closer to its grassroots, also said he wanted the PN to hold a national congress and various conferences that would help it map political positions and policies.

Coupled with a membership drive, Zammit Dimech said that if elected leader he will see to the finances of the party - currently in disarray due to years of mismanagement - saying the PN needed "a clear separation between the commercial and political arms".

Despite Zammit Dimech's good communication skills, he is not seen as a winner in this contest. However it could be that a second round which will very probably see him eliminated and would see most of his votes migrate to Mario de Marco.

The de Marco factor

Mario de Marco was the last to come forward with his nomination. In a short comment to the press, de Marco said this contest was not only a choice between persons but "it is about uniting the people, it is an election which should open the party's doors wide open and welcome young people and who ever has ideas, energy and experience who are ready to give their contribution to the country and the party".

De Marco also pointed out that the 4 May election is about building bridges in a society which is continuously changing, maturing and becoming modern. "We need to be the reflection of today's society and its needs and we should not expect society to be the party's reflection."

The country thrives for positive politics over divisive politics, de Marco said, who believes people want less politics in their daily life but they want more effective politics."

He also admits that the PN is going through a delicate process in which it will decide its future, and that party councillors need the widest choice possible reflecting the different potential in the party.

Though de Marco may not have the backing of the old guard, he promises to be the safest bet for the Nationalist party. He enjoys the backing of one of the oldest institutions in the country: Allied Newspapers Limited, publishers of the Times and the Sunday Times, renowned in being kingmakers when it comes to future PN leaders.

He also has a historical legacy as part of the de Marco dynasty: his father Guido lost the leadership to Eddie Fenech Adami on 1977, but stood by the PN leader as deputy leader until 1998. De Marco's patrician affectation lends the party a liberal candidate that could be essential for the Nationalists to break with the past it has inherited from Lawrence Gonzi.

More in Blogs
john zerafa
Voting for someone who is representing the "PN Clan" will make sure the party stays in opposition until judgement day. The 36,000 swinging voters want nothing to do with the so called PN internal circle. Dear PN... let's see if you really want to listen to the people or once again carry on with your personal agenda...
Joseph Borg
Both competitors are the anointed of who has steered the disastrous PN electoral campaign, and now is in hiding, and no one is blaming him, probably because he is still there steering at the back , waiting for the opportune time to reappear.
I am struggling to understand how any former cabinet member in the Gonzi administrations can be seen as anything but part of the so-called GonziPn clan. So all is fine and dandy as long as they are cabinet ministers, but once they lose that position they are suddenly super-partes and new. Just dosen't add up in my view.
For the PN to move on they need a lot of soul searching. It is not the first time I voted and helped when things did not work out for the PN. But I came to realize that PN is not a 'partiet' but a club that is held at ransom by the powers that be. In my old age I came to realize that the PN stood for the landlords who could only vote and PN got elected, later it was the church whoever voted Labour got a ticket to hell and PN won and I can go on and on. PN has not changed because its strategy is riding high for the occasion with those who are doing well. The truth is the world is changing and if the PN elect one of those of the inner circle, people like me will not vote for them. Enough is enough we the people has grown up. The only way for them to be elected is if like in the past Labour blow it up.
The PN needs to shed the GonziPN clan behind and elect a new leader. New brooms sweep clean! De Marco is clearly the perfect choice for the leadership.
Beatrice Gatt
Francis is much a worth person, never heard anything against him or was in the negative in news. A loyal and democratic person, never hurt anyone's feelings and he is down to earth, and when loses always takes the courage to continue and be of service with great loyality. It'S TIME FOR HIM TO LEAD THE PN in my opinion!!!
Joseph Borg
All that glitters is not gold ! It is no use electing a new leader, if the leader remains a puppet of the so called party advisers, behind the scenes. The PN has been run, and there are reasons to believe, is still being run, very similar to an obscure secret society.
Strange how everyone else can see things so clearly except for those at PN Headquarters....I cannot imagine what makes them tick. They should put personal feelings aside and not vote for their "friends". We are not electing the school prefect or head boy. They should listen to the independent polls and to what the man-in-the-street wants. After all, in five years time these are the very people who might decide to re-elect PL with an even greater majority! At least Mario/Chris/Ian are an acceptable team that we ex-Pns would actually consider voting for.....I hope that come May, the PN don't decide to self-destruct? However, nothing ceases to amaze me these days..........
Yanika Chetcuti

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition