Repubblika: An NGO, a PN faction or a home for orphans?

A new 'civil society' organisation called Repubblika proclaims its non-partisan credentials while harbouring former PN candidates and officials who are disaffected by the present PN leadership. Does this make them more of a political movement than a civil society organisation?

Marion Pace Asciak addressing the Vigil for Truth and Justice held on the one year anniversary of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia
Marion Pace Asciak addressing the Vigil for Truth and Justice held on the one year anniversary of the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia

Malta has traditionally lacked a non-partisan civil society organisation dedicated exclusively to good governance issues, brought to the fore in the aftermath of the Panama scandal, but which pre-date the election of a Labour government in 2013.

Now a new organisation called Repubblika seems intent on filling this void. It claims that it is not “affiliated” with any political party and that it does “not consider that civil society should be the battleground for politicians, elected officials, or candidates”.  

But while present day party officials and candidates are banned from joining, the new organisation includes former PN candidate and ministerial aide Manuel Delia, veteran PN stalwarts Marion Pace Asciak, and Joe Pace Asciak as well as people with no past connections to political parties like actress Pia Zammit and a number of activists from the plethora of activist groups born after the murder of Caruana Galizia. 

Unlike NGOs like Occupy Justice which came to the fore after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and which are restricted in appeal to the sizeable crowd which attends regular vigils, Repubblika is seeking to reach more people by widening its remit from rule of law issues to cover environmental and social issues including healthcare and growing inequalities. 

But the new movement inherits the same discourse characterised by a claim to moral rectitude rather than a critical approach towards the power and economic structures which pre-date Labour’s election to power.

“Good must dispel corruption, justice must be administered universally, courage must dethrone fear,” they proclaimed in their first public statement which perpetuates the idea of politics as a Manichean struggle between good and evil.

What is civil society?

Civil society is defined as “social action carried out by individuals or groups who are neither connected to, nor managed by, the State”.

In a highly partisan society civil society is also generally understood as that space where activism is not choked by partisan allegiances.  
One group which fits this definition is Moviment Graffitti which has managed to work with politicians from both major parties to oppose major projects, while at the same time retaining its distinct ideological identity.  

Repubblika tries to represent popular aspirations for a non-partisan civil society by excluding present day politicians while hosting former politicians and former candidates who have re-invented themselves as civil society activists.

When politicians become activists they are bound to expect questions on their commitment to the issues they raise now when they occupied positions of power or influence.

In the realm of popular perception Manuel Delia is still associated with his role in former PN Minister’s Austin Gatt’s secretariat at a time when controversial privatisations and land transfers were approved. 

A faction in the PN?

Repubblika has been created in a political context where a considerable number of PN voters feel estranged from the present leadership and remain loyal to Simon Busuttil.

The movement’s new chairperson Marion Pace Axiak, a former MNPN president and member of the party’s executive herself declared in July that Adrian Delia’s PN is no longer “the party she always loved”.

She also expressed her admiration for Simon Busuttil after Delia had asked him to resign from the party’s parliamentary group in the wake of the Egrant report.

This in itself raises the question whether the new movement is ‘unaffiliated’ simply because the PN is led by people it does not like.
Will all this change if there is a change of leadership in the PN?

This indirect affiliation with the Busuttil faction does not preclude members of this movement from civic activism, which is after all nobody’s monopoly.

But it does impact on the way it is perceived by the rest of civil society. 

Historical precedent?

Another question is whether Repubblika itself is an embryonic political party, something categorically excluded by the activists themselves in response to an article penned by myself a month ago. 

There has also been one singular instance in the past where civic action groups morphed into a new political movement, then party, with the declared aim of cleaning Maltese politics.

Alternattiva Demokratika was officially founded as a movement which included representatives of two civil society groups; Zghazagh ghall Ambjent and Tan-Numri, two civil society groups which teamed up with two rebel Labour politicians, namely Wenzu Mintoff and Toni Abela, way back in 1989.

In many ways the presence of activists who had been prominent in protests against Labour governments in the 1980s saved AD from being perceived as a faction of the Labour party. 

While the politically savvy choice of name; Repubblika (a constitutional milestone associated with Dom Mintoff) suggests a yearning to reach out to the Labour side of the spectrum, it is very unlikely that this will happen because even independent minded Labourites are likely to shun a movement perceived as close to a particular faction of the PN.

Ironically Repubblika cannot fill the greatest void in Maltese politics; one which represents Labour party voters who expected resignations after the latest 17 Black revelations.

By calling on the PM to resign in its first public outing, Repubblika also risks raising the stakes by questioning Muscat’s electoral mandate and thus undermining the growing consensus in favour of the resignation of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. 

Yet the new movement may have a greater influence on the debate within the Nationalist Party.

It is extremely unlikely that such a movement will ever develop into a full blown political party in its own right as a split in the PN vote would end up strengthening Labour.

But it may have an influence on the PN as a reference point for internal critics and those PN voters who feel orphaned.

Will the emergence of such a political movement contribute to the renewal of a party desperately in need of new ideas or will it weaken it by scheming against its current leadership?

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