Looking back, to move forward

This country needs a working democracy which heralds modern political parties which can implement policies and reforms.

Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon for MaltaToday on Sunday by Mark Scicluna

The polls published by MTsurveys, the polling unit at MediaToday, have vindicated our methodology and upheld our proud tradition of  being at the forefront of the best electoral surveys on the island. 

In the last five years we have conducted surveys on four major issues, and on all occasions we have actually come minutely close to the final electoral result.

The surveys concerned the 2008 general election, the 2009 European parliamentary elections, the divorce referendum of 2011, and the election that has just past.

It is a pity that throughout this period the National broadcaster, PBS, failed to give credence to our surveys: even though both political parties have silently acknowledged the veracity of our polls.

The PN was so certain of defeat that all ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister were laid bare and no files, papers, computers or basic office equipment was left for the incoming administration. This in itself was rather a silly and childish way to act.

The writing was on the wall, and though it was clear that the Labour Party had a majority over the PN, it goes without saying that Simon Busuttil's comment in The Times that the die had been cast before he entered the campaign is misplaced, and surely not befitting of someone who respects collective responsibility and hopes to lead the PN.

Dr Busuttil has disillusioned many Nationalists in this campaign, and it is rather unfair on other potential leaders to see the present PN administration pushing him for the leadership post. The PN administration should allow for a free contest, unlike the one that took place in 2004: which was massively weighted in favour of Lawrence Gonzi, who enjoyed the backing of the incumbent of the time, Eddie Fenech Adami.

The massive PN defeat is attributable first and foremost to an unbelievable Labour campaign. Labour appeared far more palatable than the PN, and was more moderate and more appealing to the electorate.

The electoral wipe out - the most impressive landslide since 1947 - happened because of a negative and hopeless campaign coordinated by former PN Secretary General Joe Saliba.

The major facelift within the Labour party was captained by Joseph Muscat and his chief campaigner Keith Schembri. It turned out to be far from superficial.

Nonetheless reasons for the defeat are also directly linked to the following considerations that were only within the control  of the Nationalist Party.

First of all the PN had been in power for a quarter of a century, during which time the government gave the impression that it was not inclusive, but driven by favouritism versus meritocracy.

The Prime Minister was badly advised about sensitive issues, and his advisors were locked in a mind set which was reminiscent of those in a permanent siege mentality.

Gonzi was also ill advised in the way he tackled maverick backbencher Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.  More so when it was obvious that Pullicino Orlando's 'economy with the truth' with regards to the Mistra event had managed to broker a 1,600 majority in the 2008 election.

The PM was also misguided in the way he tackled the honoraria issue, smart meters and the public transport reform and demands by another backbencher Franco Debono.

His one-man contest for leadership was also a big mistake.

He was further unwise to allow PBS to be used in such a blatantly partisan manner, and to allow bloggers to attack PN dissidents and critics in such a cruel and despicable manner.

Dr Gonzi was also unaware of the impact that scandals had on his administration, and the perception that his reluctance to tackle errant ministers had on public opinion.

In the past nine years, various episodes contributed to the impression of an exclusive political party serving its own interests and those of a small clique. 

In these coming days the Nationalist Party would do well to indulge in some soul searching and to focus all its attention on its political survival. There will be enough chance to probe the workings of the new Labour government in the next months. Now, however, is the time to look within.

We fully subscribe to the idea of seeking a mandate from the membership of the party to take the final decision for a new leader, rather than leave to decision to councillors who in their vast majority were chosen by the Lawrence Gonzi inner circle.

The choice in our view should be someone who can contribute to reforming the Nationalist Party from its very roots and in formulating a modern vision for the future. Failure to accept this approach could equate to further setbacks for the PN.

This country needs a working democracy which heralds modern political parties which can implement policies and reforms.

There is surely room for a Nationalist Party more so when one remembers its contribution to this country's development in the past. Change is inevitable, but it has to happen first.

More in Editorial