PN leadership | The four candidates

A comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the four candidates vying for the PN leadership post


SIMON BUSUTTIL


 

Unique selling point

Having only just entered parliament since being elected deputy leader of the PN in December 2012, Simon Busuttil represents a break from the past although he is firmly ensconced with the Gonzi clan. He is convincingly European, having fronted the Malta-EU information campaign in 2002 and then built a stellar career in the European Parliament, becoming the EPP's chief rapporteur on migration. He also sends clear signals to the PN's General Council that, although a deputy leader in the election that saw Labour win by a 35,000-vote margin, he is ready to lead the Nationalists out of the wilderness of Opposition.

Weaknesses

He has not taken responsibility for the electoral loss by calling it a day, especially after he sold himself as being the party's only chance to regain lost ground. After the electoral loss he said that the writing was already on the wall before he took the post of deputy leader, an observation that attests to the lack of humility, subsumed beneath his ambition. Better suited to the rationality of Brussels eurocracy, his rhetoric during the electoral campaign betrayed his lack of political nous on the local level, often coming across as patronising or confrontational. Although a successful MEP, his 2009 campaign for the Nationalists failed to win them a third MEP; and his role in 2013's electoral manifesto did little to stop the massive voter haemorrhage.

Political platform

Busuttil has outlined five priorities for the PN, among them turning the party into a strong and constructive Opposition that offers solutions to the challenges faced by the country. He wants to see more women in top party roles, and wants to the PN retain its core values without hindering the expectations of an ever-changing society. He will set up a college of candidates to keep party candidates updated on policy, a party convention for all party members, and study days for MPs to meet up with academic experts and professionals to discuss ongoing issues.

Simon and Gonzi

As deputy leader to Gonzi, it is widely assumed that Simon Busuttil is part of the establishment built by the outgoing party leader. Having coordinated the European Parliament electoral campaign in 2009, authoring the manifestos for both the 2008 and 2013 elections, there is no doubt that Busuttil is a member of the court of Gonzi. And with its effective control of the majority of its 900 party councillors - many of them handpicked to the Council because not all party clubs had enough candidates for their own elections - the Nationalist Party's 'inner circle' will be backing the former MP.


MARIO DE MARCO


 

Unique selling point

Mario de Marco is widely perceived to be a modern liberal who would turn the party around from stubborn positions adopted by Lawrence Gonzi: a case in point was the former prime minister's stand against divorce and the ensuing, bitter referendum campaign. De Marco has been disarmingly honest about the failures of the PN's electoral campaign, calling it "an example of how not to run a campaign", and said the PN's negative campaigning "directed at the person rather than the message" was not consonant with a "society [that] expects higher standards from politicians, not only in the way we do politics but also in the way we talk politics".

Weaknesses

Unlike Simon Busuttil, de Marco has been a member of the Gonzi cabinet since 2008, first as parliamentary secretary, then as minister. As such, he is part of the government that lost the massive trust of the electorate. He was also the author of the MEPA reform, a reform which still leaves many questioning whether it has delivered the necessary results especially after Labour was elected on a platform promising to separate the planning and environmental units. Unlike Busuttil, he also took a cautious stand in not 'burning' his chances of a leadership post by stepping up to the plate in December 2012 and running for PN deputy leader.

Political platform

De Marco says the PN must be rebuilt, together with its structures, as well as its credibility and bridges with disaffected voters and those who chose Labour over the Nationalists. "A defeat of this magnitude cannot be the result of one factor. It is the sum total of many things gone wrong... it is also perhaps the result of our party ignoring the signs on the wall for too long." Specifically, de Marco says the PN failed to gain the trust of younger generations, through its tarnished and outdated image, and that it lost support of sections of the business community and middle-income earners. He has also pledged to reverse what he described as stilted and often hostile stance towards the independent media. De Marco says the PN leadership contest not only is a choice between persons but "it is about uniting the people, it is an election which should open the party's doors wide open and welcome young people and who ever has ideas, energy and experience who are ready to give their contribution to the country and the party".

Mario and Gonzi

He was a parliamentary secretary to Lawrence Gonzi, serving him directly by authoring MEPA reform - a personal political pledge of the then prime minister's re-election campaign in 2008 - and presided over positive tourism figures during the past five years. However, he was not a supporter of the Busuttil bid for deputy leader, which means he is not part of the Gonzi clan. As the son of Guido de Marco, deputy leader to Eddie Fenech Adami between 1977 and 1998, the link puts him on the other side of Fenech Adami-Gonzi historical continuum.


FRANCIS ZAMMIT DIMECH


Unique selling point

Now in his seventh legislature, Zammit Dimech is the most experienced Nationalist MP with unrivalled ministerial experience within the party's ranks. His decision to contest was "a question of fulfilling one's duty," and loyalty, he said. His activism in the party dates back to the turbulent period during the 70s and 80s, making him the only contender with hands-on experience of militating in the Opposition ranks during the toughest of times. Zammit Dimech's ministerial positions, ranging from the environment to tourism and from communications to foreign affairs, also give him an edge over his rivals in terms of executive experience.

Weaknesses

Although he was not a Cabinet minister during the last Gonzi legislature, bar the last four months, in which he served as foreign affairs minister, the socially conservative Zammit Dimech is considered to be part of the old guard. With the other three contenders selling themselves as a break with the past, Zammit Dimech's could be viewed as a continuation of the policies which led to the catastrophic electoral defeat. As a minister in successive PN administrations, he was never considered to be among the top performers and at 58, Zammit Dimech's age could also be a disadvantage especially when compared to Labour leader Joseph Muscat young age.

Political platform

Zammit Dimech says the party must unite and reach out to the grassroots and the rebuilding process must commence at the roots of the PN. His first initiative would be an intensive membership recruitment drive. The PN must be based on an open system of participation, transparency, responsibility and collective action, he says. "The party needs to reach out not only to those who have left it, but also to those who never considered voting for us." Stressing the need to empower sectional committee members and councillors, Zammit Dimech says the party must return to the concept of holding a congress for all its paid up members, instead of the General Council for party councillors. He also says that the party needs to perform an "x-ray" of society to ensure that the PN's policies are relevant and become "the people's party".

Francis and Gonzi

Despite having served as tourism minister under the first Gonzi administration between 2004 and 2008, Zammit Dimech was demoted to the PN backbench in the wake of the 2008 election and was informed that he would not be in the Cabinet of Ministers by SMS. However, following the Parliamentary and internal turmoil, which hit the PN in 2010, Zammit Dimech was appointed Chairman of the Parliamentary Foreign and European Affairs Committee. Following the appointment of Tonio Borg as Malta's EU Commissioner in November 2012, Zammit Dimech was promoted to foreign affairs minister and led the PN's defence at the height of the political turbulence last year. He was than given prominence in the PN's electoral campaign, addressing a number of press conferences and appearing on various television debates in the run-up to the party's dismal electoral result.


RAYMOND BUGEJA


Unique selling point

The wealthy businessman who spent most of his career overseas but now runs a restaurant, is presenting himself as an outsider who represents the party's grassroots. His complete detachment from the party places him as the only candidate with no involvement in the party's structures and PN-led governments over the past years. Moreover, his business nous could come in handy with the party facing a financial meltdown and its commercial companies in danger of going into liquidation. Bugeja believes that the PN lost the election because the people wanted a change in government, however he puts the heavy defeat down to the party's campaign and its detachment from the people.

Weaknesses

Bugeja has no connection with the party except for a short-lived stint in the PN's think tank AZAD, however he insists that the PN is his "family". In the run-up to the 2013 election, Bugeja, 61, flirted with Labour and after meeting leader Joseph Muscat he reportedly offered his services to the then Opposition leader as long as he is appointed finance minister. His sudden appearance on the political scene and his interest in contesting elections with both major parties could be viewed by party councillors as opportunistic. Presenting his nomination on Friday, Bugeja's lack of political pedigree was evident in his comments, and the fact that he took no questions from the press.

Political platform

An accountant by profession, Bugeja decribes himself as a "conservative with a liberal heart and a capitalist with a social heart". He says the country needs a strong Opposition party which offers the electorate a viable electoral alternative and pledged to make the PN a popular party. "I think I have the necessary profile to make the necessary change and renewal this party needs, to transform the party into a party of the people for the people, and not a leaders' party serving its inner core." Presenting himself as the people's candidate, Bugeja says that his nomination came after he received strong messages of support from the public following the electoral defeat. Pointing out that he would not be carrying out a sensationalist media campaign, Bugeja said he would be meeting the PN councillors individually. "I will be doing my best in the weeks to come, with no sensational media campaigns that bother people. No slogans, no marketing or political programmes... this is not a business. I'm not selling a product but I want to send my message directly to the councillors."

Raymond and Gonzi

Having no direct involvement with the party or PN administrations, the businessman who made his fortune in the UK and Italy, has no direct working relationship with the former prime minister and outgoing PN leader Lawrence Gonzi.

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