The PN’s malaise? Let’s go back to when Fenech Adami stepped down

The era of switchers is over: the number of those who switched from supporting PN to Labour has not increased. It has been replaced by the phenomenon of PN supporters switching off by refusing to vote

Not the gilets jaunes… Lawrence Gonzi (left) – seen here at the start of works on the Valletta City Gate – left a  gaping wound inside the PN by leaving out in the cold his adversaries in the leadership race, alienating their supporters
Not the gilets jaunes… Lawrence Gonzi (left) – seen here at the start of works on the Valletta City Gate – left a gaping wound inside the PN by leaving out in the cold his adversaries in the leadership race, alienating their supporters

The results of the elections last weekend are now well-known. The initial ‘surprise’ at Labour’s wins in the EP and the local council elections has subsided. As I already had the opportunity to say, I believe that the era of switchers is over: the number of those who switched from supporting PN to supporting the PL has not increased. It has been replaced by the phenomenon of PN supporters switching off by refusing to go and vote.

One can dwell on the numbers till the cows come home: many use the numbers to fit their theories – believing that they must be right – rather than looking at the numbers objectively so as to come to some logical conclusion on what is happening to the PN. These include the two main factions in the PN – let’s call them anti-Delia and pro-Delia. But they also include the Labour party and Joseph Muscat himself.

I have no intention of playing the numbers game to confirm my preconceived ideas. I find that attempting to explain the background of the situation that the PN finds itself in today, is more interesting and more conducive to a cure for the real malaise. Assuaging the symptoms will leave the PN in exactly the same position as before.

It all started when with the connivance of Eddie Fenech Adami, the ‘establishment’ of the PN, decided that Lawrence Gonzi was to succeed Fenech Adami as leader of the party. Lawrence Gonzi has many good points and is no fool, but he was either used or consciously let his dogs run wild. Those around him went beserk to protect him from the possibity of his leadership being undermined by continually persecuting those who had not supported him from day one. Hence, trying to bridge the gap that any leadership race produces, was not on their agenda. The mess that followed could have been easily avoided if they did not insist on leaving out in the cold all of Gonzi’s adversaries in the leadership race. Instead they opted to alienate them and their supporters.

The situation became worse when the infamous election slogan ‘GonziPN’ was used in the 2008 election. Some PN supporters were provoked to ‘joke’ on their being ‘PN’ but not ‘GonziPN’. The election was won by a hairbreadth: all of 1,500 votes and the PN lost the overall majority of the electorate.

Rather than coming to their senses, the Gonzi clique boasted that he had won the election single-handedly. I remember a Nationalist MP reacting ironically by saying that since Gonzi had won the election alone, next time he need not do his part...

The choice of Cabinet after that election was made according to Gonzi’s principles. Viewed on their own, these principles make sense but they ignore the big picture by leaving electoral districts without their own minister or parliamentary secretary, and also ignored the importance of cohesion in the parliamentary group. He then proceeded to put salt on the wounds by informing those who were being dropped from the Cabinet via SMS. How’s that for empathy and trying to iron over differences and difficulties? He quickly forgot that his wafer-thin majority could hardly allow him to behave in that way.

Gonzi’s decision to appoint George Abela as president made matters worse. I have nothing against Abela – he was a friend since our student years and he is a very decent man. But that is not the point. Gonzi rammed this decision down the throat of a disagreeing parliamentary group, let alone bothering to check what the PN executive thought about it.

From then on, the PN started having more and more cracks in its structure, cracks that the impatient Franco Debono tackled in the wrong way and encouraged others to follow suit.

That led to the PN’s 2013 electoral debacle.

Gonzi resigned and had the prudence to resign also from Parliament.

The election of Simon Busuttil followed the same pattern – his sharing the main PN 2013 election poster with Lawrence Gonzi did not help matters.

Within party circles, Busuttil started being viewed as one who imposes his will, riding roughshod over those who disagreed with him, hardly giving them space to expound on their position. He was notorious for going late for PN executive meetings and then saying he had to leave early, thus ensuring approval of his already decided positions.

Simon Busuttil proceeded to alienate those who had not supported him from day one and proceeded to ‘reform’ the PN statute – only to undermine his own reforms at a later stage, such as when he asked Salvu Mallia to contest the election as a PN candidate. Worse still, he concocted an agreement with Marlene Farrugia behind the back of the PN executive; with the executive subsequently being put in the position of having to endorse this agreement after the event, so as to avoid a split on the eve of the 2017 election. This agreement cost the PN two seats in Parliament.

In the 2017 election, Busuttil retrieved some switchers but lost even more.

It was then that the PN grassroots reacted. They had had enough. Someone proposed Adrian Delia for the leadership and the PN grassroots adopted him as the only way for the PN to free itself from the clutches of those who had made such a mess and had humiliated the PN twice in a row – if one only counts general elections.

The powers that be did not want Adrian Delia because he would not toe their line. Simon Busuttil had resigned from the leadership but subsequently behaved atrociously in trying to influence the choice of his successor by openly opposing Delia. This enraged the grassroots who concluded that Delia must be their man.

The PN establishment never accepted Delia’s leadership that was continually being undermined from day one. Malta has never seen anything like the shameful behaviour of some MPs and PN exponents – with the open support of The Times – ever since Delia was elected.
In the EP elections, some even organised a block vote that asked their ‘anti-Delia supporters’ to vote only for two candidates from the PN list of EP candidates in order to humiliate Delia. Then they interpreted the result to ‘prove’ that the majority of PN voters do not want Delia as leader.

The malaise has now reached extraordinary severity. The PN is practically in meltdown.

Removing Delia will be another affront to the PN grassroots and could make matters worse. Endorsing Delia will be an affront to the PN ‘establishment’and will leave everything as it is!

No one wants to take the bitter medicine that is needed to heal the PN’s malaise: accepting that the PN is not a monolithic party under the leadership of some strongman. It never was – although when Dom Mintoff provoked the people of Malta to react to his obscenties and abuses, it seemed so.

Respect towards all PN supporters and members, leading to co-operation at the top – so that the party can concentrate on its job – seem to be the bitter medicine that no one wants to take.

Is no one willing to swallow their pride?

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