[ANALYSIS] The PN’s electability: Another dismal result and a warning

Questions are being raised about the Nationalist Party’s electability after another dismal survey result. Kurt Sansone looks at the numbers and an internal PN email exchange shedding light on the mood within the party

Ivan J. Bartolo (left), Hermann Schiavone (right)
Ivan J. Bartolo (left), Hermann Schiavone (right)

The electability of the Nationalist Party is again being questioned internally after another dismal showing in a MaltaToday poll that saw the Labour Party increase its support.

It was PN MP Hermann Schiavone who sounded the warning to fellow MPs in an analytical note he sent them after the survey was published last Sunday.

According to Schiavone’s note, which was leaked to MaltaToday, he said the poll results could result in a 90,000-vote difference between the major parties and a loss of seven parliamentary seats for the PN.

Schiavone has refrained from commenting on his analysis when contacted by this newspaper. “I will not comment on that which I share with the rest of my friends in the parliamentary group. What I share with the parliamentary group is meant for internal consumption,” Schiavone said, confirming that after every survey he sends his analysis to fellow MPs.

According to Schiavone’s note the 30-point gap between the major parties could see the PN lose seats in the “vulnerable districts” – the 5th, 12th, 8th, 11th and 9th districts.

The MaltaToday survey put the PN at 22.1%, one-point less than it was a month ago. The Labour Party’s support stood at 51.9%, an almost three-point increase over the previous month.

Party sources told MaltaToday that the poll result and Schiavone’s analysis have rekindled an internal debate on the PN’s inability to make any inroads among the electorate.

In his note, Schiavone called on the leadership to hold a parliamentary group debate on the poll results.

However, in further exchanges leaked to MaltaToday, it appears that some PN MPs have accepted as inevitable the party’s defeat in the next general election.

One MP, recently-elected Ivan J. Bartolo, was emphatic: “The PN will not win the next election and the PN must come to terms with this fact sooner rather than later.”

He added that people had stopped listening to the PN. Using phrases like “the party has lost its competitive space” and “the brand has fallen into negative territory”, Bartolo said MPs also had to accept the fact that some will only be in the parliamentary group until the next election and others beyond it.

Bartolo went on to suggest a structured process in which the party discusses, defines and outlines its long term political, organisational and communication strategy.

He also spoke of a five to seven-year plan to ensure the PN “will elevate itself from this pit”, adding that he would be willing to commit to forming part of a group that will enable the party to reinvent itself.

“The question is… are we all ready to make this commitment and ensure that through this selfless act we start inspiring people to join the cause. This is no longer about us or the PN, this is now deeper, this is about saving our democracy,” Bartolo warned, insisting the PL cannot be blamed if Malta became a one-party state.

Schiavone reacted strongly to Bartolo’s statement that the PN would lose the next election.

In the email exchange seen by MaltaToday, Schiavone said the PN had become unelectable for various reasons and it seemed nobody wanted to address the issues.

“This is the second legislature of a corrupt bunch of criminals, to put it mildly. We can’t just sit and see our glorious party wiped out because of our inaction,” Schiavone told MPs, insisting he would never give up on winning the next election.

“We have ourselves to blame for being in this situation… I’m not a rebel who wants to bring down anyone for the sake of it. I just want what’s best for the party. None has to be humiliated in the process. I’m heartbroken watching my party in this situation knowing full well that there is a way forward to become an alternative government,” Schiavone wrote.

He prospected that people will become disenchanted with the government in the months ahead as the dire economic reality will start to bite.

“Colleagues, the economy is crumbling and unemployment will soon reach record levels. In a few months’ time people will become disenchanted with Labour but we have to take drastic decisions to make our party electable,” Schiavone wrote.

Looking at the trend over the past 32 months since Adrian Delia became leader of the PN, shows that the party has failed to make any inroads among the electorate.

Significantly, the MaltaToday surveys show that the PN continues to be hampered by a substantial chunk of its own electorate who refuse to rally behind the party.

But it is not just an issue of mistrust in the PN and its leadership. Surveys suggest that people are supporting the Labour Party out of conviction.

Support for the PL has remained consistently high and trust barometers have placed Robert Abela and his predecessor, Joseph Muscat, well-ahead of their rival.

There is almost universal recognition that the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been good. But it will be the handling of the ensuing economic crisis that can take away the sheen from Abela’s armour, something that so far does not appear to be happening.

The latest MaltaToday survey shows that Abela’s enthusiastic and positive discourse when talking about the need to lift COVID-19 restrictions may well be in tune with the predominant feeling among Nationalist voters, who are less concerned about the pandemic than Labourites.

With his voting base secured, it appears that Abela is making direct overtures towards PN voters in what could complicate matters much more for the Opposition.

It will probably take a root and branch change for the PN to start claiming back lost ground.

MPs and party functionaries may well discuss the poll results, pinpointing the reasons for the dismal performance, but whether they are in the mood to undertake radical change is another matter altogether.

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