PN’s lack of debate ‘keeps the peace’ inside divided PN

Both PN leadership candidates say they are OK with a debate, but the party has decided to go back on its 2017 precedent

Adrian Delia faces off Chris Said in 2017
Adrian Delia faces off Chris Said in 2017

Both Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech have confirmed their willingness to face each other in a debate, but the PN’s electoral commission has prohibited such debates both on the party media and when candidates are invited on other media.

The two contenders have been instructed to turn down invitations for face-to-face debates. The party will only host a back-to-back interview with the candidates answering the same questions by a moderator.

While Grech has declared having “no issue in participating in debates”, he clarified that he felt bound to respect the rules issued by the electoral commission. But on Facebook, Delia criticised the decision to discard face-to-face debates when the race formally kicks off. “We have to lead by example… I expect that when the leadership election kicks off officially, there will be dialogues and debates between the candidates. In this way, members will be fully aware of the decision they are going to take.”

He insisted it would be a mistake if the PN “stifles democracy in its own home”.

In 2017, rival candidates were allowed to debate each other on the party media, while answering questions from a panel of journalists from different media houses. The Labour Party also organised two debates between Robert Abela and Chris Fearne, in which the latter’s gaffes helped catapult Abela to win the contest against his more seasoned rival.

The PN decision has deprived voters of the chance to see the two contenders fare in a high stakes and no holds barred debate, apart from decreasing interest in the race among the general electorate.

One PN source said the sanitisation of the contest ensures that divisions and tensions between rival camps is not exacerbated, drawing a comparison with US primaries where candidates are forced to inflict damage on each other to secure the nomination, fuelling the party’s adversaries in the process.

“The party is in no mood for internal confrontation. What many PN voters are yearning for is unity and stability. Seeing the candidates fight each other would leave the party in an even worse state than now.”

But another source felt the lack of a debate punishes Delia, who is the underdog in this race and could count on confrontation as an opportunity to catch up, even if Grech is a seasoned debater.