The battle to convince Simon Busuttil to stay is being fought online

People urged Simon Busuttil to stay on as PN leader, many taking to social media to insist there was no credible, viable alternative waiting in the wings, despite many known MPs being touted for the job

Exit, stage left: from left, Paula Mifsud Bonnici, Ann Fenech, Mario de Mario, Simon Busuttil, Beppe Fenech Adami, Rosette Thake and Karol Aquilina said they would tender their resignation and not recontest the election for their posts
Exit, stage left: from left, Paula Mifsud Bonnici, Ann Fenech, Mario de Mario, Simon Busuttil, Beppe Fenech Adami, Rosette Thake and Karol Aquilina said they would tender their resignation and not recontest the election for their posts

In public, he is putting on a brave face to convince hard-core PN supporters that the party is strong and that the future is bright.

But, deep inside and behind closed doors, Simon Busuttil must still be fighting an uphill battle with demons of his own making in an attempt to come to terms with the drubbing the PN received in Saturday’s election at the hands of the Labour Party.

But he broke with a Maltese tradition of party leaders staying on after election losses, and Busuttil immediately assumed responsibility for thee PN’s loss and announced that he was resigning as leader of the PN and that he would not run for the post again. The rest of the leadership team followed suit.

The initial reaction was one of approval and admiration for a man willing to take responsibility for failing in a task he had taken on against all odds.

But soon, voices of ‘dissent’ started making themselves heard. People started urging Busuttil to stay, many taking to social media to insist there was no credible, viable alternative waiting in the wings, despite many known MPs being touted for the job. An online petition was also launched, with thousands of PN supporters voicing their support within hours.

PN candidate Robert Arrigo, elected on the 10th district with the second highest number of first-count votes after Busuttil, was among the first to voice his dissent to the leader’s decision.

“I am sorry I do not agree with you at all. This was always going to be a long-term project and not merely a four year project,” he wrote in an open letter to Busuttil on Facebook.

He said that he himself had many falls during his life, but he bit the dust and took up the challenge. He insisted that an organisation should not lose its CEO every few years.

“Do you think I have resigned each time Sliema Wanderers FC lost the league or a trophy final? Should I have closed our hotel because of low occupancy during a particular year? Should I have closed Robert Arrigo & Sons Ltd as one of my principals went bust? Should I not use my boat ever because once the engines stopped in the middle of the sea? All answers you will find in the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s song ‘My Way’.”

Arrigo acknowledged that some things could have been done differently, but said that to criticise after the fact is easy.

“Yes the PN needs tweaking and this can only be positive. The seeds are sown. Taking the seeds off and starting from scratch is definitely a no go,” he appealed to Busuttil. “With serenity, let’s all look at the bigger objective.”

Prof. Mary Ann Lauri, social psychologist and University of Malta lecturer, signed an online petition calling on Busuttil to stay on as leader of the PN.

In a post on Facebook, she said people should not judge Busuttil through the lens of those who did not vote for him. “He is a good leader fighting a difficult cause,” she wrote. “Those who expected him not to speak about corruption are accomplices to corruption.”

David Griscti, who chairs the PN’s think tank AZAD, also called for Busuttil to reconsider his decision to resign.

“Simon is the most honest, genuine and gentle politician I have ever met,” he posted. “Strategy and focus need changing, image needs polishing, but the leader is the right one.”

Former PN executive president and MP Frank Portelli, too, pitched in. “If at first you don’t succeed... TRY AGAIN SIMON,” he wrote.

Writing in The Malta Independent on Friday, Claudette Buttigieg – who served as shadow health minister in the previous administration – said that Busuttil had managed to make it possible ‘to be cool to be a Nationalist again’. 

“He went from a party leader to a truly inspiring national leader. He brought back hope to the party grassroots but, even more, to the country,” she wrote. “He managed to mobilise the country and grew in stature with every day that went by.”

Buttigieg said that even all that was not enough and that a lot more work was needed, but she insisted that Busuttil was not to blame for that.

“I am privileged and honoured to have worked with him and I will cherish the past four years,” she said. “However, in this given moment, in these circumstances, I honestly don’t see anybody replacing him. He has not finished what he started.”

Former PN assistant secretary-general Jean Pierre Debono, one of the PN’s two newly-elected MPs, also lent his support to Busuttil. “Simon Busuttil must stay on as PN leader. That is the cry on everybody’s lips. I fully support Simon Busuttil as leader of the PN,” he said on Facebook. 

Net TV journalist and presenter Frank Psaila said that the party should have the strength to take a long-term approach and see it through. “Success does not depend on quick fixes,” he wrote on Facebook. “Quiet competence rather than headline-grabbing prominence is key to success.”

He proposed a petition calling for the PN to agree to a two-tier effort before electing a new leadership team – setting up a panel of experts to analyse changes in society and the population to help the PN better understand the needs and aspirations of people, and launching a broad dialogue with all sectors of society to get true input and feedback.

Many a common man and woman have joined MPs and politicians in calling on Simon Busuttil to remain PN leader, citing various reasons for the choice – varying from the lack of qualified candidates, to Busuttil’s character and the greater good of the party and country.

But one petitioner in particular stood out. She – Tessie Cassar – said she supports Simon Busuttil. The reason? He’s her neighbour.

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