Bernard Grech pitches for change as he brands Abela a detached rich man

Bernard Grech delivers rousing speech at first mass gathering since COVID during the Nationalist Party’s traditional Independence Day eve meeting

PN leader Bernard Grech
PN leader Bernard Grech

Bernard Grech has asked people to join him in bringing about change, as he contrasted his humble beginnings with what he described as Robert Abela’s “comfortable upbringing”.

The Nationalist Party leader insisted that he can understand the aspirations and concerns of ordinary people, unlike the Prime Minister.

“He puts €300 diesel in his Azimut yacht and darts off to Sicily while the country faces a COVID crisis. How can he understand you and the difficulties you face with the cost of living? Robert Abela cannot understand you. Unlike us, who achieved things through hard work, he was raised in comfort. I understand you and this is why I want to be your prime minister,” he said.

Describing the Nationalist Party as a “dynamic and strong” team, Grech said the Opposition was ready to govern.

He urged party supporters to “lift their heads high” and feel pride in the historical achievements of the PN.

The PN leader started off his speech at the Granaries in Floriana on Monday evening with the trademark words reminiscent of Eddie Fenech Adami: “Għeżież ħuti Maltin u Għawdxin… (Dear Maltese and Gozitan brethren)”.

But while referencing all past leaders, including Adrian Delia, Grech used the occasion to stamp his persona on the party in what was the first mass gathering in more than a year.

The gathering conditioned by COVID-19 protocols saw supporters having their temperature being taken upon entrance and shuttled to their reserved seats. In many ways, the event lacked the lustre of a mass meeting because of the rigidity imposed by COVID protocols but for PN supporters it was a welcome return to the Fosos.

Grech said he did not fear “the big fish” unlike Abela, whom he accused of failing to denounce the wrongs of his predecessor.

The PN leader said Abela was unable to act against Rosianne Cutajar, Edward Zammit Lewis and Carmelo Abela.

He cheekily compared Cutajar and her reluctance to appear before the Council of Europe to answer over a potential conflict of interest and PN MEP Roberta Metsola, who is vice president of the European Parliament.

The Opposition leader continuously urged people to join him in the drive for change.

“I am here because I believe the truth can prevail. We are here to be the change,” he said.

On the environment, he said it was “time to fight back” by turning abandoned land into green spaces to be enjoyed by the public.

He urged environmentalists to join the party, promising them that there was space for them.

Grech accused the Labour government of lacking ideas and being negative in an attempt to flip the image the PN has been labelled with over the past years.

“They are negative about every solution we propose… they do this because they lack ideas. If they are unable to find solutions, it is time for them to move aside and let us implement our plan,” Grech said.

He reiterated the party’s proposals to increase the VAT-exempt threshold to €60,000 from €30,000, increase salaries for educators and introduce an air link between Gozo and Malta.

Grech underscored the government’s attempt to buy votes by employing people with the public sector. But in a pledge reminiscent of that made by Eddie Fenech Adami before the 1987 election when the then Labour government had bloated the public sector with thousands of jobs, Grech insisted no one will lose their job under a future PN government.

“But we will put the country back on a just course,” he said.

He also urged Labour supporters fed up with the government to join him in bringing about change. “This is not about blue and red but about ‘il-bajda u l-ħamra’,” he said, using terminology that Joseph Muscat had used in the last general election to instil patriotism.

In a rousing ending to a 50-minute-long speech, Grech urged people from all walks of life to “be the change”.

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