‘PN suffering from an identity crisis’ – Deborah Schembri

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco says that PN’s policies must become more socio-liberal in light of the party's first ever general convention 

Simon Busuttil delivers his closing speech following the PN's general convention
Simon Busuttil delivers his closing speech following the PN's general convention

The Nationalist Party is struggling to form its own identity, government MP Deborah Schembri said.

“The PN is suffering from a big identity crisis,” Schembri said. “They’re a conservative party that is trying to become liberal, especially after the public backlash following their decision to abstain on the civil unions bill.”

She was speaking on Monday night’s edition of Reporter that discussed the renewal of the Nationalist Party, in light of their first ever general convention two weeks ago that they had organized to listen to the ideas of people outside the party. In his closing speech, PN leader Simon Busuttil singled out three speakers for praise- a transgender, a half-Ghanian student, a person with a disability, and a separated mother who has a gay son. Busuttil challenged his party to be brave enough to accept such people into the PN’s folds.

“The fact that [Busuttil] told the party that they need to be brave enough to accept people like them means that these people stand out within the party, which is an indication of discrimination,” Schembri said.

She also said that the entire convention was an imitation of a congress that the Labour Party had organised in the run-up to the 2013 general elections.

“They are imitating the PL’s formula for success, but as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Schembri said.

PN deputy leader Mario de Marco said that his party must update some of its policies if it wants to regain the people’s trust, following their loss by around 36,000 votes in the 2013 general election.

“One of the reasons we lost is because we didn’t update our policies enough while in government,” de Marco said. “We were criticised for the high water and electricity tariffs, for the high levels of bureaucracy and for not being socially inclusive enough. We erred but we now need to look at how this party can get back up on its feet and become more socio-liberal.”

In this light, he said that the PN’s October convention was a step in the right direction.

“Through this convention, the PN opened itself up to the ideas of people outside the party,” de Marco said. “If the PN wants to move forward, it needs to look outside the confines of the party and attract fresh people with new ideas. Whether the convention was successful or not now depends on how the PN moves forward in light of the new ideas that we heard from this convention.”

He also praised the way Busuttil delivered his closing speech.

“He had no podium, notes or teleprompter when he gave his speech,” de Marco said. “It wasn’t a normal speech but something that came from the heart and the people watching him noticed that.”

Lawyer Joe Ellis, one of the speakers at the PN’s convention, said that both the PN and the PL are facing an identity problem.

“The PN is a party that is trying to re-discover its DNA following back-to-back defeats [in the general elections and the MEP elections] and you could see that in his speech,” Ellis said. “However, the ideological gap that used to exist between the two parties in the past has disappeared, a phenomenon that can be seen in other European countries too. What do the parties represent today? I think it was [MaltaToday journalist] James Debono who had pointed out that parties today are simply vehicles to project their leaders’ vision every five years.”

However, he said that the approach of Malta’s two main parties remains very different.

“While the PL is more sensitive to the needs of the individual, the PN is more sensitive to the wider society,” Ellis said.

However, former Nationalist deputy and ambassador Noel Buttigieg Scicluna said that the PN’s ‘DNA’ has remained the same.

“The PN’s DNA is that of the party with sound principles that works towards helping the country,” Buttigieg Scicluna said. “It is a liberal party too, and it has opened its eyes following the response to its stances on divorce and civil unions.”

'Nepotism making people lose respect for politicians'

In his speech, Busuttil pledged to remove nepotism from politics.

“The government has taken nepotism to an unacceptable extreme,” Busuttil said, pointing out the employment of Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi’s wife Sai as a trade envoy to China. “Nepotism is a form of corruption, because it is unjust to the people who don’t get a job simply because they’re not close to certain people.”

“If we don’t get rid of nepotism, people will start losing their respect for Malta’s political class,” de Marco said on Reporter. “While the country used to be split in half over support for the PN and the PL, around 30% of people are now fed up of politics and nepotism contributes greatly to this. We need to have a great debate about how such appointments are made and whether ministers should get to pick their own consultants.”

“There should have been a call for Sai Mizzi’s post before she got the job.

However, Schembri insisted that Mizzi is fully qualified for her job and that the government had no need to issue a public call before giving the job to her.

“Envoys are positions of trust and there is no need to issue a call for them,” Schembri said. 

Live current affairs programme Reporter is presented by Saviour Balzan and produced by MediaToday. The programme’s new format includes lawyer Ramona Frendo as a resident opinionist.

Reporter is aired live every Monday at 9.45pm on TVM 1