‘We must forge ahead even after defeat. What we stand for is important for many’

Alex Perici Calascione: the PN’s next deputy leader puts politics and public service before ideology

Alex Perici Calascione
Alex Perici Calascione

If the Nationalist Party is to return to winning elections, it must put together an agenda that contributes to the improvement of people’s lives, the only applicant for the post of the PN’s deputy leadership told MaltaToday.

Alex Perici Calascione will next week face the PN’s commission entrusted with carrying out a due diligence exercise to determine his suitability as a candidate to become the PN’s deputy leader. Once that exercise is completed – and many believe there will be no surprises in the outcome – he will go on to formally submit his nomination for the post, seeking 50% plus one vote of the party councillors’ approval.

Speaking to this newspaper, he said words like ‘vision’ have been used and abused by politicians for decades. He said he prefers to focus on a commitment to improving people’s lives.

“Each party of course has its own values, views and principles, but at the end of the day, if you are in politics it is to make people’s live better, whatever your ideologies,” he said.

Perici Calascione said that the PN’s new deputy leader – of which there will now be one and not two, like at present, following changes to the party statute in 2020 – should focus on the party’s core structures.

He said that the party’s 10 affiliate branches – such as the MZPN, APAN and MNPN (youths, pensioners and women) – represent a cross-section of society itself and they bring the PN closer to the reality each sector faces on a daily basis.

“It is therefore imperative to listen to these branches and to get more involved them and with the sectional and regional committees, which are after all, are men on the ground,” he said.

Perici Calascione believes the PN can return to winning elections but that there was a lot of work to be done.

“The Nationalist Party has a responsibility to try and win each election it contests,” he said. “We must forge ahead, even after the latest defeat, because what we stand for is important for many people.”

He said he was not disheartened by the 40,000 vote deficit the PN suffered in the latest election, though he was disappointed. “I am the first to admit that the worst thing politicians suffer from is disillusionment, but I firmly believe that we have the people and tools necessary within the party to start making a difference once again,” he said. “If that were not the case, I would not have thrown in my application for the deputy leadership.”

And while some have dismissed his application as the PN simply reverting to old faces once again, many have welcomed his candidature and insist his experience, as well as his values and open-mindedness, is exactly what the party needs most at this time.

Perici Calascione is not new to the political scene or to the internal workings of the PN. He was the party’s treasurer between 2013 and 2017, and in 2017 he had contested the party leadership race after Simon Busuttil stepped down, eventually losing out to Adrian Delia.

And while he is now reluctant to lay out his vision for the PN – awaiting the outcome of the due diligence process he faces and also a face-to-face meeting with party leader Bernard Grech – his election campaign in 2017 could serve as a reference to understand some of his views and ideologies.

Back then, he was considered the more progressive of the four candidates (Chris Said and Frank Portelli had run for the post, with him and Delia).

Courting controversy, he had pledged to update the Nationalist Party’s guiding documents on values if he was elected party leader. Perici Calascione had insisted the PN needed to update its policies to better reflect today’s society. The documents in question are ‘Fehmiet Bażiċi’ (Statement of Basic Policy, first published in 1986) and ‘L-Għeruq Tagħna’ (Our Roots, first published in 2011).

He had argued that the renewal would not change the party’s core beliefs, but that it would serve to adjourn its policies. He said the party needed to adopt a more “positive” approach to understand how society had changed along the years. And this change, he said, needed to be reflected in the PN’s policies.

“This does not mean that all we believe in today must end. It only means that a political party which aspires to lead the country, must understand the realities and circumstances of the people it represents,” Perici Calascione said in 2017. The PN’s policies, he added, must be “of and for the people”.

He had in fact built most of his leadership campaign around the need for the PN to re-invent itself. He said that his top priorities, if elected leader, would be unity within the party, creating a more open party that did not “belong to any particular clique”, and making the party relevant to people’s lives once again.

As PN treasurer, Perici Calascione had been tasked with fixing its financial situation following the 2013 loss, a task which he later said seemed insurmountable at times.

In 2016, the PN introduced the Cedoli scheme, a programme through which the party was able to collect €3.5 million in loans from people. The scheme was heavily criticised by the Labour Party, who insisted that it represented an attempt by the PN to circumvent party financing laws.

Over the years since, Perici Calascione has frequently defended the scheme, saying the money was loaned by normal people not businesses with possible interest in influencing the party.

And now that he stands to become deputy leader, he believes solving the party’s dire financial situation requires the best tools available.

“The challenges are the same as they have always been,” he said. “You face immense external pressure to improve on deliverables and therefore must use the best tools at your disposal to meet the challenge.”

But he insisted it is high time the political parties agree to seriously discuss the issue of party financing and what form this should take. Parties must come together with a will to discuss fair demands that must be addressed.

As to influence of big business in local politics, Perici Calascione said he is convinced that the fact that he is married into the Pisani family, owners of the international Corinthia hotels brand, will not be a stumbling block in his nomination. His wife owns shares in the company. “I have my own business and my law firm gets my full attention,” he told MaltaToday. “In this country, what scares me are hidden business ties and underhand deals, not a relationship that, in the case of my marriage, has been in the open for more than 36 years.”

Perici Calascione said he had always believed that, even in the least cases of a conflict of interest – even the mere suspicion of one – a politician should immediately take a step back to maintain his integrity and that of the process.

“This will not change if I become deputy leader,” he insisted. “My relationship with my wife, and her family connections, is something I am entirely serene about.”