The PN’s waning influence

Why, then, does the PN cling to an exceptionalist, almost identitarian and anti-feminist view of sexual and reproductive rights when its own modern, centre-right colleagues in the EPP are challenging these notions and showing pragmatism to people’s problems and challenges?

At a recent PN parliamentary group meeting in Pietà, Bernard Grech reportedly found himself facing questions about his “diminished presence as a leader.”  Significantly, Grech was criticised for “under-performing more than usual, particularly when it comes to articulating the PN’s vision.” 

Indeed, the same question is on the lips of many: where is the PN’s imprint on the national agenda, under Grech’s leadership? 

Irrespective of the statements issued by individual MPs and shadow ministers about various issues that crop up during the political week, it sometimes feels like little appears to embody a known vision of a future Malta, under a new Nationalist administration.  

The absence of this kind of vision – a vision of what a Nationalist administration truly stands for, in contrast to Labour (beyond merely being ‘against Labour’, for its own sake) – has now been felt for years; and this clearly accounts for the stasis inside the party, and its dismal polling.  

Effectively, the message to the PN from voters is clear: they are simply not interested.   Labour, on the other hand – despite its chequered history, of late – has managed to offer a dynamic proposition to voters. It safeguarded the welfare state, both in times of economic growth and when the economy was threatened (as in COVID-19); and it keeps riding the wave of change, by responding to real-life problems with legislation (a case in point being the Prudente case, and Labour’s upholding of a legal amendment to the abortion ban).  

The PN might find temporary unity in opposing the amendment out of ideological prejudice; but it is clear that this has failed to make any sort of impact in the polls. Indeed, the voting population shows a greater propensity not to vote, than to choose the PN as an alternative to the tried-and-tested Labour government. 

Clearly, this is the failing of Bernard Grech. It is no wonder that MPs privately express misgivings about his ability to survive another electoral outing, in the 2024 European elections. Given the current political atmosphere, the Nationalist Opposition should really be poised to capitalise on the people’s growing mistrust of Labour, possibly by regaining its lost third seat. 

And yet, there is still an air of resignation within the PN, surrounding the 2024 MEP elections. And a disastrous show of voting support would leave Grech with no option, but to choose an honourable exit. There will probably be no bloodshed as in the previous Adrian Delia skewering (where dismal polls also motivated a rebellion against Grech’s predecessor). But there will be – indeed, there already is – ‘nudging and pushing’: to the effect that, without any poll increases, there is no future for Bernard Grech as PN leader. 

Meanwhile in another dimension...   

In Poland, a disabled 14-year-old raped by her own uncle was refused an abortion by two hospitals in her hometown in eastern Poland, because doctors there cited a ‘conscience’ clause.  

The case has sparked outrage in the conservative, Catholic country. Unlike Malta – where abortion is illegal in all cases – Poland allows abortions in very limited instances; namely in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is threatened.   

But in a deeply conservative country like Poland, the outrage sparked by this case only further exposes Malta’s international isolation.   

Significantly, the Nationalist Party’s sister party in Poland – Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform – is leading the charge for reforming abortion laws.  

In February 2021, Civic Platform approved a new policy that would not only undo the near-total abortion ban introduced by Law and Justice, but also make abortions available for women in cases where they face “an extremely difficult personal situation” and “after consultation with a psychologist and doctor”.  

Tusk was even more categorical in July 2022, when he committed his party to introduce a bill legalising abortion in the first 12 weeks [of pregnancy].   

Ireland and Malta too share a common history as staunchly Catholic former colonies of Protestant Great Britain: where a ban on abortion stood as a mark of exceptionalism, as the rest of western Europe legalised abortion during the first 12 weeks of any pregnancy.   

But unlike in Malta, the Irish abortion ban was also entrenched in its Constitution. Just as the Andrea Prudente case triggered the Maltese government’s amendment to allow the termination of a pregnancy when the life of the mother is in danger, it was real-life medical cases that triggered the reforms which watered down and ultimately overturned Ireland’s abortion ban.   

Former Irish PM Leo Varadkar – leader of Fine Gael: also an EPP sister-party to the PN – was the driving force behind the historic Irish referendum to remove the constitutional ban on abortion in 2019, and the subsequent approval of a liberal abortion law.   

Why, then, does the PN cling to an exceptionalist, almost identitarian and anti-feminist view of sexual and reproductive rights (in 2018 it even voted against embryo freezing), when its own modern, centre-right colleagues in the EPP are challenging these notions and showing pragmatism to people’s problems and challenges?   

It is very hard to pigeonhole Malta’s ideologically topsy-turvy parties. But in the context of European elections, as things stand, it seems that Labour will appear more comfortably aligned to its socialist mainstream, than the PN is to European centre-right politics.