Renewal is easier said than done

Simply put: while it is ‘normal’ for political parties to have internal disputes, a modern, aspiring European party should ideally be managing its conflicts in a neater way

All things considered, the PN’s election campaign couldn’t have got off to a more inauspicious start.

On the very first day of the campaign, no fewer than four Nationalist candidates decided to suddenly announce their departure from the party: leaving Bernard Grech scrambling to maintain the semblance that this was part of a ‘renewal’ process, in which ‘old faces’ were being replaced by younger, more energetic candidates.

No amount of political spin, however, could disguise the simmering tensions which underpin this dramatic turn of events. Grech himself, of course, cannot be blamed for trying to put a positive perspective on proceedings; but the reality is that at least three of those public resignations – Mario Galea, Clyde Puli, and Kristine Debono – were the result of an ongoing, five-year feud between the Adrian Delia, and Bernard Grech factions within the party.

For while both Puli and Debono couched their own departure in diplomatic terms, Mario Galea most certainly did not: even going as far as to publicly belie claims, made by Grech, that this was all part of an ‘agreed strategy’ for the party to move forward.

As things stand, however, that claim was already on shaky ground. While few can deny that the Nationalist Party would indeed benefit from a general rejuvenation, all round, it cannot escape notice that the stables are being cleaned out in a highly one-sided manner.

There are, after all, older (and more ‘antiquated’) Nationalist candidates than Puli, Debono or even Galea  - at 59, the oldest of the evacuees - who should be ‘making way for younger blood’, at this stage: not least, those PN candidates who – while undeniably being more loyal to Bernard Grech – were also part of the PN leadership team that has already lost two elections on the trot.

In a word, the official Nationalist Party spin is fooling nobody. It is clear that Bernard Grech was wrongfooted, by what seems to be a concerted strategy by Adrian Delia loyalists to throw a spanner into the works. And in any case; even if it was a planned move, on Grech’s part – he certainly could have planned it better.


In this regard, Bernard Grech even has his own experience to fall back on. In the case of Hermann Schiavone, for instance – who likewise resigned from the party in January, citing identical reasons: ‘to make way for new blood’ - the affair was altogether more capably handled. (Grech even had the good sense to turn it into a favourable photo-opportunity, for himself.)

No such tact, or strategic thinking, was visible anywhere in this latest fracas, however. Timing is the crucial factor here: even if we concede that those particular resignations may have been warranted, it should never have been allowed to happen so soon after the starter-pistol had already been fired.

Simply put: while it is ‘normal’ for political parties to have internal disputes, a modern, aspiring European party should ideally be managing its conflicts in a neater way. This, by way of contrast, looks unsophisticated, to say the least.

Yet another problem with Bernard Grech’s response is that - while there is certainly nothing wrong with enlisting young candidates (especially in an election where 16-year-olds will be voting for the first time) – the balance still remains firmly in the direction of older, more ‘tired’ candidates.

As seen on Monday, Bernard Grech anointed only one ‘new face’ - Christian Micallef - as a stand-in for Claudio Grech in the first district. And apart from having no visible young replacement for the other three MPs… such last-minute, internal district alterations are also bound to irk other candidates from the same district.

Ultimately, what this also proves is that ‘renewal’ is easier said than done. Apart from the strength to take difficult decisions, it also requires the people-management skills to ensure that talent is not merely ‘lost’ to the party; but ‘redeployed’.

This is why this newspaper has consistently argued – since the last election – that renewal should all along have been a five-year exercise, to allow enough time for anger to dissipate, and people to see more clearly.

Unfortunately, however, too much time was wasted on internal bickering – culminating in the deposition of an incumbent leader, half-way through his term - and today, the PN is not only facing the same criticism, as in 2017; but it is also still saddled with the same old faces who were responsible for the last two electoral fiascos.

And even now: with internal dissent surfacing at the very outset of the campaign, the party has opted for the messiest route available. The upshot is that, when people look at the Labour Party, they will see corruption and maladministration, certainly; but they will also see a party that is speaking about bread-and-butter proposals.

When they look at the Nationalist Party, on the other hand… they will only see division, culminating in the mass-desertion of a sinking ship.

Under such circumstances, it is almost inevitable that the 2022 election will yield similar results to its predecessors. And ironically, there would be only one explanation for that: because the Nationalist Party has not, in fact, succeeded in renewing itself at all.