Bernard Grech excludes deal to serve as interim leader until election: ‘I am here for the long haul’

Bernard Grech meets the MaltaToday newsroom for a chat as he vies for the Nationalist Party’s leadership

PN leadership hopeful Bernard Grech
PN leadership hopeful Bernard Grech

Bernard Grech has quashed rumours that his candidature for the Nationalist Party’s leadership is only an interim measure until the next general election.

“I do not believe in half measures and I am here for the long haul,” was his categorical answer when asked whether he was backed as the sole candidate to stand against incumbent Adrian Delia on condition that he would step aside after the next general election.

He also strongly denied that his run for the post was tied with conditions. “I accepted to contest with absolutely no conditions attached to my candidature.”

The new PN statue obliges the party to hold a leadership contest and not just a confirmation of the leader after a general election defeat. 

In a frank meeting with the MaltaToday newsroom on Friday, Grech made it clear that he would seek to restore unity to the party.

Regaining moral authority not censoring

When asked about the problems faced by Delia in imposing his leadership on rebel MPs who openly defied him and whether he would censor MPs who would behave in the same way, Grech replied that he would not “censor” anyone but would restore “the moral authority” required to ensure unity in the party.

“If you lack moral authority you will also lose the authority to lead and be followed and everyone would start to do what he or she likes… My first priority would be to gain everyone’s respect, not through censorship but through persuasion,” he said.

Grech did not exclude that he would offer Delia a role if he becomes party leader. “Delia can be part of the solution, if he is willing.”

In a clear indication of the style he intends adapting as Opposition leader he made it clear that he would not engage in frontal attacks against anyone.

“I was always vociferous against corruption.  I immediately accepted Repubblika’s invitation to participate in the vigil commemorating assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia where in my speech I emphasised unity and persuasion rather than frontal attacks… Our battles have to be chosen well and we should not treat our adversaries as enemies,” he said.

Bernard Grech shared his thoughts with the MaltaToday newsroom
Bernard Grech shared his thoughts with the MaltaToday newsroom

The south and the PN

Grech who hails from Birżebbuġa, recognised the party’s weakness in the south of Malta, acknowledging that past Nationalist governments could have invested more in community projects in the region.

He frankly acknowledged that in some cases Labour was more attentive to the needs of people in Birżebbuġa by investing in a new water polo pitch, which had remained abandoned for 25 years. But he also hit out at Labour for its botched American Univesity of Malta plans.

“The PN did not invest enough and did not address the needs of the people of the south in the same way as it did in the north,” he said.

Grech also emphasised the need for a more “inclusive” party, recognising that after Malta joined the EU the PN entered a frame of mind “of congratulating itself at reaching the apex” and forgetting new problems people were facing.

When asked for his vision for a new Malta he insisted that he wants “the person” to be the first priority. He added that people should not be used as “the key for others to enrich themselves.”

Abortion, housing and corruption

While reiterating his stance against abortion he insisted that he would not stop any discussion from taking place.

“I do not want babies to be killed. But I can’t just ignore the difficulties faced by human beings in such situations,” he said.

In a glimpse of the party’s future housing policy, Grech excluded state intervention “which artificially interferes in the market” through measures like rent control. However, he emphasised the State’s role in increasing the supply of affordable properties, especially in abandoned village cores, with the aim of bringing rents down.

He also indicated that while under his leadership his party will remain vociferous on corruption, it will also emphasise bread and butter issues.

“Both are important. But you can't talk to someone suffering hunger or who is afraid of losing the roof over his head about good governance.  People want immediate solutions to these everyday problems and you can’t tell them that good governance would eventually solve all their problems,” he said.

Grab next Sunday’s edition of MaltaToday for a full report and analysis of Bernard Grech’s leadership bid.

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