Gonzi: Opposition should have granted MPs free vote on civil unions

Former PN leader Lawrence Gonzi gives his successor a vote of confidence, but would have granted MPs free vote in civil unions bill

Lawrence Gonzi
Lawrence Gonzi

Former prime minister and PN leader Lawrence Gonzi gave his successor, Simon Busuttil, a vote of confidence following yet another electoral drubbing, however he gave his thumbs down to the PN’s failure to grant its MPs a free vote in the civil unions vote in parliament.

During an interview on Radju Malta’s ‘Ghandi xi Nghid,’ hosted by Andrew Azzopardi, Gonzi said that Busuttil needed time to grow into the role as party and opposition leader, adding that the heavy defeat at the polls last week did not necessarily have a bearing on the 2018 general election.

Asked whether he would have asked to have his leadership confirmed by the PN’s general council following the party’s dismal result in last week’s election, Gonzi said “no, I wouldn’t have asked for a vote of confidence, the leadership is there to stay.”

However, Gonzi pointed out that he would have gone to the PN executive council to confirm that he still enjoys the backing of the party’s higher echelons, adding that Busuttil would certainly do so in the coming days. 

Looking back to Busuttil’s first year at the helm of the PN, Gonzi expressed his agreement to the PN’s opposition to the introduction of adoptions by same sex couples through the civil unions law, with the only difference that he would have granted a free vote to Nationalist MPs a free vote in the controversial vote.

Yet, he said the PN should have made its position clearer and explained that it was not opposed to civil unions.

In one of the few interviews he has given since exiting the scene following the 2013 general election, Gonzi said that that he has full faith in his successor, insisting that it takes time for all political leaders to grow in the role.

Pointing out that Busuttil is still maturing and growing in the role, the former prime minister said “I believe in him, he is very competent, he can analyse things in a calm manner and in recent weeks he put in some very good performances in the debates with the prime minister.”

He added that as long as Busuttil keeps the party’s doors open, his successor should be in a position to offer the electorate a viable alternative to government and win the people’s trust to run the country in four year’s time.

While admitting that he is no longer involved in the party structures, Gonzi suggested that the new generation of PN leaders “needs to study how society is developing, it needs to analyse not only its errors but missed opportunities too. What the party needs is a thorough analysis of which issues it could have addressed better and which policies it needs to fine tune.

On the “exceptional circumstances” which led to the introduction of divorce, which was approved under his watch despite his opposition, Gonzi said “the solution for the PN was obvious, we gave a free vote after acknowledging that it was a matter of conscience.”

Explaining that back then he advised his MPs to vote according to their conscience, the former PN leader insisted that when no agreement is reached within a party, “a free vote is one of the ways within democracy to reach a solution.”

Defending his position over his vote against divorce, Gonzi said that if MPs were given a free vote, this was also applicable to him. Asked whether the PN paid a hefty price for his decision to vote against divorce, Gonzi said “if you pay the price for something, it does not necessarily mean that you have taken the wrong decision.”

On last week’s European election, in which the PN once again suffered a drubbing at the hands of Labour, Gonzi stressed that European elections and general elections are completely different to each other.

While accepting that this year’s loss for the PN was similar to the ones he suffered as party leader in 2004 and 2009, Gonzi said this does not necessarily mean that the PN will lose the 2018 general election, citing the 2008 election as an example.