Fenech’s leaked letter on gay marriage exposes a deeper rift inside the PN

The letter, running to over 2,000 words, was leaked to the Labour Party’s media

Former finance minister Tonio Fenech
Former finance minister Tonio Fenech

A letter that Nationalist former finance minister Tonio Fenech sent to party leader Simon Busuttil and the rest of the parliamentary group has exposed the former minister’s anger and disappointment at the position adopted by the opposition over the Marriage Equality Bill.

The letter, running to over 2,000 words, was leaked to the Labour Party’s media. It confirms that the position adopted by the PN had not been discussed with the parliamentary group – like the electoral programme that “was not discussed” before being presented to the general council in a conclusive format.

For Fenech, the Nationalist Party spent the past four years trying to silence those who have internally disagreed with it and was now on course to marginalise Catholic and Christian voters.

He argues that the PN not only lost gay voters a long time ago, but would soon also lose the “influential” Catholic/Christian voter.

In his own words, the former minister did not contest “with the Nationalist Party”, because he realised that “writing in a newspaper has more power than sitting in a parliamentary group”.

He accused the PN of having “acquired an art of silencing those who had differing opinions, not through dialogue and conviction, but through the simple manoeuvres of postponement of discussion”.

The party would allegedly bring up the pretext that a Bill would not yet have been published. It also transpires, from Fenech’s letter, that it was not the first time that the party’s position would be pronounced before even the different matters would have been discussed within the parliamentary group.

Taking supporters for granted

Fenech has accused the party of taking people like him for granted, believing that they would always stand with the PN, no matter what.

“Every day I come across more and more people who feel that this home has been stolen from them, not through some democratic process, but through a sense of denial for what we stood for, even our most basic values.   

“These people, like me, feel that the Party has taken them for granted, assuming wrongly that we will just continue voting PN because that is what we always did.”

Fenech argues that party loyalty “is dwindling fast” and that committed Catholics and Christians were not going to be silenced: “ I assure you that the less colourful silent ‘Catholic/Christian’ vote is far more influential than any other lobby. The only difference is that it has not yet been mobilized effectively as happens in other countries, because to date these people did not feel the need for such a mobilization as they found a home in the PN.”

Gay marriage ‘fiasco’ not a surprise

Fenech dubbed the position of the Marriage Equality Bill “a fiasco”, stating that “the mishandling of this situation by the leadership is not surprising”. 

“You have brought the party to a lose-lose scenario and it seems many of you cannot even see it.”

Fenech insisted that the party should have held a mature discussion on the Bill, “as it should have had before the commitment was entered into the electoral programme”. 

Somewhat exasperated, Fenech writes that presenting over 80 amendments to the Bill was useless, expecting the government to have some sort of dialogue at committee stage. “If we really believed this, we have still not learnt who Joseph Muscat is, who on this issue with continue sowing division.  We played perfectly into Joseph’s hand once again.”

Fenech almost questions why some of the PN MPs gave apologetic speeches in parliament for abstaining in the civil union vote, “for which I, and I know many of you, have no regrets because it was the right thing to do since we did not agree with the adoption of children”.

‘Malta is not liberal’

Fenech insisted that the gay community will not switch back to the PN: “Joseph Muscat is their kingpin who on this issue not only gave / and will continue to give all they want irrespective of what we see as consequences – but also managed to silence the Nationalist Party.”

He argued that the PN was now losing the Christian vote as well, with its crusade against (PN MP) Edwin Vassallo, who wants to vote against the Bill.

“These voters were given some hope that there is still someone in the PN that represents them. If Edwin does not remain consistent to his vote, then Edwin will be perceived as having been forced to comply and that the party wants to silence their opposition.”

Fenech wrote that Maltese society is not liberal: “Your circle of friends may be and possibly many voters in the more affluent constituencies, the media that wants to sell this idea – but many of you well know that your Nationalist voters are not happy at all with what is happening and there are more people with a certain conscience in our society then we want to believe.”

No discussion on electoral programme

The electoral programme was not discussed before being presented to the General Council in a conclusive format, and published less than two weeks before the election.

“What did the PN want? That half the candidates do not contest – at that point I well understood the candidates who suffered in silence and moved on.”

Fenech has argued that the electoral programme does not bind the parliamentary group in voting in favour of the Bill, and not only because the introduction of gay marriage “is not just a change in title”. He reiterated that the issue at the last general election was corruption, and not gay marriage.
“I urge you to be more analytical of what happened electorally and where a 100% YES to the marriage amendments vote leaves the Party. The LGBTIQ community may be giving some of you the impression that this will appease the PN with their voters, but I know first-hand, that they know they are just being used for votes by both parties – however as long as they get what they want it suits them fine.   

“They know that neither Joseph nor the PN are genuine about their convictions and that the PL and PN are just after their votes.”

Compromise and avoid a split

Fenech has urged the party to compromise, instead of imposing a decision. The appeal not to split: “If this inflexibility is because there are far more than one who hold Edwin’s position, then this is a mockery of democracy and shows how wrong the party was in putting it in the electoral programme in the first place, ignoring this division. Find a compromise solution.”

In the letter, Fenech struggles to understand why the PN does not want to allow a free vote. He argues that giving a free vote will allow both the LGBTIQ community and the Christian voters know who represents them within the party.

Fenech’s last word

Fenech, who in 2012 contested the PN deputy leadership election against Simon Busuttil, said he holds no ambitions to return to politics. But he parts with a word of advice:

“For those of you who simply want to say ‘we don’t care’, then good luck and enjoy your extended years in opposition and enjoy playing into Joseph Muscat’s hands.”

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