Bad news for democracy

To function properly, any democracy requires a healthy counterbalance between Government and Opposition: more so in a context like Malta’s Parliamentary democracy, which since Independence has concretised into a fiercely bipartisan structure

The results of our latest survey are bad news not just for the Nationalist Party; but also for democracy as a whole.

To function properly, any democracy requires a healthy counterbalance between Government and Opposition: more so in a context like Malta’s Parliamentary democracy, which since Independence has concretised into a fiercely bipartisan structure.

As such, we need a stronger Opposition party to take root: not for the benefit of the Nationalist Party itself, but to safeguard our entire political system against collapse.

However, our survey indicates that Adrian Delia’s trust ratings have now plummeted to 13.5% - their lowest level in two years – while (arguably even more worryingly for Delia), Prime Minister Robert Abela scores higher than even Joseph Muscat at the peak of his popularity.

Indeed, Abela’s trust rating among those who voted PN in 2017 stands at 22.5%: an impressive result that not even Muscat managed to achieve.

For this reason, many will be quick to point easy fingers of blame at Delia himself – not without good reason, as under his leadership the PN clearly has no realistic prospect of achieving power in the near future.

In his own defence, Delia might argue that his ability to deliver was severely curtailed by lack of support from his own Parliamentary colleagues… who may also have responsibilities of their own to assume for the party’s current dismal showing.

Nonetheless, the bulk of the responsibility still rests with the party leadership: especially considering that Delia was elected in 2017 on the promise to turn around the PN’s ailing fortunes.

All the same, the issue cannot be resolved through a change in leadership alone. The PN must also reckon with its dented image and brand: much of which has been the result of self-inflicted damage.

With or without Delia at the helm, the PN will remain a divided party; and while Delia manifestly is not the ideal leader to unite the different factions, the reality is that no other contender has stepped forward to replace him: still less one with the necessary credentials to bridge the divide.

What the survey also clearly shows is that there would be a risk of even greater exodus, if the PN does not manage to contain within it those moderate voters who are not averse towards Abela. This suggests that the real challenge will be not be simply to heal the inner divisions, but to rein in those Nationalist voters who are openly giving Abela the benefit of the doubt.

For that purpose, many within today’s PN might prefer a leader more in synch with the protest moment spearheaded by NGOs like Repubblika. But there is no guarantee that a more intransigent leader will find it easier to appeal to that crucial faction; many of whom may be attracted to Abela on his own merits, rather than just out of aversion to Delia.

So even with a new leader, the PN must still reinvent itself into the sort of modern political party that can stand toe-to-toe with Abela’s newly-rebranded PL. It must still undertake a radical reform of its entire structure and ethos, and emerge as a truly modern, European and progressive party: ideally with issues of social justice, the environment, and emancipatory politics at its heart.

But as earlier indicated, there is more than just the survival of the Nationalist Party at stake. Our survey could also be an indication that if Abela succeeds in cleaning up his party’s act, he may aspire to achieving a bigger majority than Muscat.

There are indeed already projections that, if an election were held today, Abela might even succeed in controlling a two-thirds majority in Parliament: a situation that would, de facto, translate into unprecedented Constitutional powers that would be clearly in excess of all limits of healthy democratic representation.

The prospect may materialise sooner than we anticipate: for if Abela wants to ride on the groundswell of goodwill, these survey results might inspire him to go for an early election.

This leaves the Opposition with little time to address what can only be termed an existentialist crisis for itself, as well as a threat to Malta’s democracy. The regeneration process must begin without delay.

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