‘PN campaign left much to be desired’ – de Marco

Former minister Mario de Marco takes PN electoral campaign to task over being too reactive, not aggressive in setting its own agenda, and indulging in “personal attacks”.

Mario de Marco did not like the 'painted faces' and the 'blokka silg' billboards.
Mario de Marco did not like the 'painted faces' and the 'blokka silg' billboards.

Nationalist MP Mario De Marco is currently being perceived by many as the man suited to replace former Prime Minister and incumbent Nationalist Leader Lawrence Gonzi when the party holds its leadership election on 4 May.

While he has not yet confirmed whether he would be throwing his hat in the ring for the PN top post, he has however been showing clear signs of leaning in that direction - most notably by penning an autopsy of the party which spelled out an aspirant-leader's vision for the party just days after its landslide defeat at the polls.

When de Marco was asked about the Nationalist Party's electoral campaign, devised by party strategist Joe Saliba and former minister Austin Gatt, he again did not mince words, but at the same time held back from going on the offensive.

"It left much to be desired. Very often, we were far too reactive rather than proactive. For reasons which were perhaps sometimes outside of our control, the political agenda was being set either by the Labour Party, or by developments taking place."

He noted that "without a doubt", the Enemalta kickbacks commissions oil scandal and the ensuing investigation occupied much of the campaign's agenda throughout the two months that preceded the election. So did the power station issue, and Labour's energy proposals.

"Which means that for almost half the campaign, the PN was reacting instead of setting the tempo and the agenda of the campaign," de Marco said. "But aside from that, we could have also been much more imaginative in the messages we were trying to convey."

"However obviously everyone is wiser in hindsight, and I imagine that those managing the campaign had their reasons for doing what they did," de Marco noted, playing down his criticism.

He conceded that in this election, Labour was far more organised than in preceding campaigns. "Probably the Labour Party learned from the PN and the way we have managed our past campaigns," de Marco said.

However, he returned to his previous point. "People don't always appreciate negative campaigning. We had another negative campaign in 1996. Then also we did not win the election. This does not mean we lost this election because of it, but I certainly didn't help."

He pointed to the controversial blue/red faces billboard, which the PN unveiled in the wake of Busuttil's remark to Labour candidate Deborah Schembri that she was being used by Labour because she had a "Nationalist face".

"I did not like the 'painted faces' billboard. Neither did I like the 'blokka silg' billboards, which were left in place until just a few days before the election," de Marco said with a frown.

"It seems to me that I should want to win an election not because my adversary party is so bad or untrustworthy, but because I feel that my party is the right party and the party capable of leading," he says.

He also insisted that political battles today are not won in the campaign weeks in the run up to the election, but that a party's political work starts the moment one election is concluded and another term starts - even if they are in government.

"One must convince people not during the five or nine weeks of a political campaign, but in reality from the very next day of winning a campaign and of starting a new legislature.

Asked for his take on the factors into the PN's landslide defeat at the polls on 9 March, de Marco pointed to several factors that "snowballed" while insisting "it would be a mistake to try and identify just one reason."

He argued that "first and foremost, there was the time factor", pointing to how the PN has been in government for the past 15 years - 26 if one excludes the short-lived Sant 1996-1998 administration.

"Without a doubt, as happens in every democratic country, the people seemed to have decided they wanted change. Which is a natural process in every democracy." De Marco added that insofar as the average life span of EU administrations, the PN well exceeded the 10-year average.

"One can eat rib-eye stake every day. But after two solid weeks of that, anyone would want a change. It is only natural," de Marco argued by way of analogy. "It doesn't mean that the meat itself was bad quality."

De Marco also pointed to what he describes as the "leadership factor", noting that despite how in 2008, the PN pitted the relatively fresh-faced Lawrence Gonzi against long-standing leader Alfred Sant - who had already led the party through four elections, the preceding two of which he had lost - the PN only won by a handful of votes.

"We know that there were many Labour supporters who were not comfortable voting for Labour because they didn't agree with Sant's leadership style, as well as certain decisions he made, both regarding the Mintoff issue, and also the PL's position against EU membership.

"It was natural that the moment the PL changed its leadership and chose Muscat, those Labour supporters who were previously not comfortable voting for PL flocked back to the party."

De Marco also concedes that the dissent manifested by certain individuals - particularly rogue MPs Franco Debono and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando - on the PN's rowdy backbench also undermined the party's unity and stability.

 "For those following the PN from the outside, they obviously started seeing a party which was not only experiencing considerable internal conflict, but was becoming weakened by this conflict," de Marco maintained.

De Marco also argued that the PN's electoral prospects were hindered considerably because "it lost touch with certain segments of society", adding "the support the PN enjoyed among younger generations was not as strong as it was in past elections".

"While before it was a natural choice for younger voters to opt for the PN because the party was reflecting their aspirations - such as when the PN campaign in favour of Malta's EU accession in 2003 - this election the party was not necessarily reflecting their way of thinking. Now, I feel that younger generations are viewing the PN as too conservative."

He noted that the party's opposition to the introduction of divorce contributed considerably towards this perception. "Maltese society changed over the past years, and the party did not want to accept this."

He also noted that the PN managed to alienate the sympathies of the gay population when it attempted to introduce civil union for same-sex couples by means of a law that sought to regulate cohabitation. "Some felt either insulted, or that the proposed rights were too conservative," de Marco said.

He also argued that certain aspects of the PN's electoral campaign did not help the party's electoral prospects.

"The way the campaign was conducted was too negative, and far too based on the personal element," de Marco said. "People today look towards politicians and expect a new way of doing and talking politics."

"To a certain extent we were also victims of the successes we achieved," de Marco adds, citing this as the reason the electorate was unafraid by the unknown variable that the PL and Joseph Muscat represented.

"Because the people felt so comfortable, they felt that they could opt for change without taking the time to adequately consider the consequences that such a change could bring."

De Marco also said that another factor that worked against the PN was that "for the first time, the political positions of both parties on principal issues - such as EU membership and economic issues - where not that far from each other".

In this, de Marco claims a victory for the PN. "Arguably, the biggest achievement of the PN during its previous term was that it convinced the PL to change its policies to ones closer to those of the PN."

At the same time, de Marco seems sceptical whether Labour could ever be a new-and-improved PN. "Whether the PL will be able to truly execute these policies is however something we will need to see over the coming five years."

A full interview with Mario de Marco appears in sister newspaper Illum


As an ex-PN voter I urge both Dr Demarco and Fenech Adami to submit their nominations. I cannot understand what is wrong with the people calling the shots at PN headquarters.......They really must be cut off from the people if they think that Dr Simon Busuttil can ever appeal to the 37,000 voters who voted for PL. No, they weren't former MLP supporters but people who would in the 1980s and 1990s, never have dreamt that they would ever vote labour! People will remember Dr Busuttil for all the ridiculous comments he passed prior to the elections. I would rather stay at home and abstain than vote for a party led by Dr Busuttil (nothing personal). Dr Busuttil appeals to diehard Nationalists...but not to "floaters". Demarco/Fenech Adami, don't let these people who seem to have hijacked the PN, ruin the party/work your fathers worked so hard for. Now is the time to stand up and be counted, the PN needs you (both of you!)
Tmiem -
It was clear during the election of a deputy leader that the majority of the cabinet did not support S.Busuttil. Therefore in anointing SB the factional delegates created an unpopular LG/SB tandem to the exclusion of the rest and in the process lost the direct input, enthusiasm and popular backing of grass roots who saw a better future for the party with at least one of a trio of senior ministers.
The elections were lost over the past 5 years, and as the polls clearly showed time and again, they were not lost in the electoral campaign itself. Bringing up the electoral campaign as an excuse is just that....an excuse. The elections were lost because of the abysmal communication and inter-personal skills of so many in government and civil service circles that slowly but surely diminished the dignity of so many citizens and that alienated civil society, in many more ways than one can imagine. Failing to mention those issues indicates a state of denial, and/or an attempt to shift the blame on others when in reality those others did not form part of the outgoing cabinet. One should be man enough to look in the mirror and accept one's role and responsibility, as that will attract more respect than any attempt to cover up the glaring truth.
also by way of analogy, if those who were eating the rib eye steaks were fed up of the PN's modus operandi, how much more those who could not even sniff the steak? What about the arrogance Dr. Demarco? What about dardir malta? What about the idea that was conveyed to one and all that we would have to bear with this type of arrogance for at least another 20 years? people began to freak out contemplating this prospect
My Dear Sir, Dr. Demarco, it is extremely important not to tell us what you think from the pulpit because you in the end, you equal one vote like me. If those in the knuckle of things care to ask those 37,000 swing for Labour they will found out that people like you who were on the screen every day where boring and cut out of what the people felt. If these become future PN leader the party will remain for at least more 10 years in opposition. First tell me what did the PN do in the last 25 years for half the population of the south and tell me for the other half what did the people get other then see corruption galore, arrogance, and name calling us as cwiec. Dr. Demarco keep cool and do some thinking before blaming others.
Emmanuel Mallia
Inaugurating infrastructural projects is no more an election carrot ! Gonzi's speeches were unconvincing, he did not know what he was saying, as it was dictated to him by others ! His eyes, full of frustration and anger ! The same goes for Simon !!!
Ara veru li dawn ta' gonzipn tant laqtithom id-damdima li hadu li lanqas bis qed qiesu kemm kienu jiftahru bli kienu jaghmlu waqt il-kampanja elettorali. Issa mbierek Alla kollox qed jmaqdru. Insomma biex tisma lil Bisullotti jghid li l-elezzjoni kienet diga mitlufa qabel dahal hu, hi fil-fehma tieghi kolossali. U din ta' Demarco xejn mi inqas. Mela nsew li l-kampanja kienet twila ufficjalment xahrejn ? Ma kellux hin u zmien Demarco jiftah halqu ? Jew issa jrid jilghaba bhal Busullotti u jahsel idejh bhal Pilatu ?
But Dr Demarco,where have you been during the campaign? Why did you support such a campaign? In reality all of you left much to be desired.
Paul Sammut
Anki issa ser inkomplu bill-"Mhux jien Mamam"?
Another confirmation that after all it was Dr Franco Debono who was telling the truth when stating repeatedly that the Nationalist Party was being led by a clique.
Mr de Marco- if I'm not mistaken, YOU were a part of this same PN which created such a fiasco.
This is like the story of Colombus egg. All are wise after the event. You had 9 weeks chance to amend your ways and many were telling you that the negative campaign is doing more harm to the party when compared to the positive campaign of the PL. The Nationalist never learn – NEVER.
Having closely followed the recent elections from Australia, I must admit to being absolutely shocked with the majority obtained by the PL. When the disasters of the previous, totally discredited government were considered, I was certain that Labour would win by 80 to 100,000 votes rather then a measly 35,000. What is the matter with the voters in Malta?
@ demarco Wara kullhadd gharef!!