Country deserves strong opposition

The PN should not rush into electing a new leadership but should instead give itself the necessary time to go through an intense soul-searching exercise

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

In the wake of last week’s surprising electoral result, once again clouds appear to be gathering upon the Nationalist Party. 

Following the resignation of Simon Busuttil, his deputy leaders Mario de Marco and Beppe Fenech Adami, secretary-general Rosette Thake and the rest of the party’s leadership, the Nationalist Party finds itself in the same position it was in four years ago. 

Not only does it need to reinvent itself and re-emerge with a new leadership team but the PN must rethink what kind of party it wants to be because the formula used by Busuttil clearly did not work. 

At least the new PN leader will not have the added burden of inheriting a bankrupt party, although the wage bill remains huge and the new leadership must ensure that the party’s finances do not deteriorate to avoid the party’s machinery from stalling. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the third consecutive drubbing in the space of four years represents an opportunity for the PN to take stock of the situation and identify why its narrative did not resonate with the electorate. 

The result shows that Labour is in synch with the electorate and has an extraordinary ability to read the times and crystallise a narrative which resonates with the aspirations of various segments of the population.

Joseph Muscat’s resounding victory does not mean that the 170,000 voters who chose Labour condone corruption and bad governance, but it shows that the people are driven by other issues such as financial wellbeing and stability. 

Others might have been repulsed by the aggressive campaign against Muscat and the PN’s failure to distance itself from blogger and Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who led the offensive against Labour based on serious allegations which are yet to be proven albeit being subject to magisterial inquiries.

Before electing a new leadership, the PN should leave no stone unturned in trying to understand why Labour has been successful and why it has not managed to make any inroads. Only then can the PN project an alternative which is credible and appealing. 

This should not lead the PN to emulate Joseph Muscat’s winning formula and transform itself into a new version of Labour. The new leadership needs to create a winning formula by making the party more relevant without falling into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone.  

While the new leader will inevitably need to quell the anger and resentment among candidates and grassroots at the PN’s decision to form a coalition with Marlene Farrugia’s Democratic Party, the new PN has to differentiate itself from Labour. 

The PN is a traditionally conservative party and Simon Busuttil’s liberal stance on gay rights has alienated chunks of the PN’s voter base. Making corruption and good governance its main war cry might have re-awakened a largely comatose party but there has been no clear break from the past. 

Sections of the electorate are still reeling from the corruption, arrogance and divisive leadership which characterised the previous PN administration led by Lawrence Gonzi. 

The scars from 2013 are yet to heal and four years in opposition were not enough for the PN to win the people’s trust and convince the electorate that it is not the party which suffered a mammoth defeat. As a result the PN is still not trusted enough to deliver its good governance pledge.

In order to regain this trust and become an alternative to Labour – which is now the natural party of government – the PN must open itself up to civil society, communicate with sections of the electorate which do not identify themselves with it and divest itself of classist and arrogant elements. 

The PN is now suffering from the same syndrome that had earlier proven so costly to Labour – i.e., having to reinvent itself after one gruelling defeat after another – and needs to regenerate itself. 

One handicap the new PN leadership will have is a vastly ‘old’ parliamentary group with very few new faces. The new leader’s choices for a renewed front bench will be limited although a number of new candidates could be elected through the casual elections. 

Although the magnitude of Labour’s victory increases the urgency for an effective opposition, the PN should not rush into electing a new leadership but should instead give itself the necessary time to go through an intense soul-searching exercise because the country deserves a strong opposition.