Deputy leaders: the two unlikely scapegoats

On the day of atonement, the Biblical Jews used to go through a ritual. They would select a pair of kid goats. One of them was sacrificed. The other was designated as the “azazel”, the living scapegoat which was released into the wilderness, taking with it all the sins and impurities of the community.

The establishment of the Nationalist Party appears to be intent on reviving this tradition. In the immediate aftermath of the Party’s worst electoral result since 1955, it has decided to adopt two unlikely fellows as the scapegoats for this dismal reverse. We are talking of the two Deputy Leaders of the Party, the sole remaining elements of Adrian Delia’s ill-fated revolution. Their removal, besides entrenching once more the establishment’s hold on the Party, will also serve as an interesting diversion from the fact that the prime culprit of the PN’s failure, Bernard Grech, will remain enthroned as their puppet.

The establishment’s strategy is based on three pillars.

The first pillar is that exponents of the faction are constantly trying to diminish the PN’s failure. We have seen them claiming that Robert Abela has not really won, and if they admit that he won, they qualify that he won only by nefarious means such as the Labour Party having huge campaign funds. Funny how separate analysis made by two independent papers showed that it was the PN that spent the most in advertisements on social media, and by far.

Separate analysis made by two independent papers showed that it was the PN that spent the most in advertisements on social media.

The second pillar is that their exponents are saying that Bernard Grech has improved the PN’s electoral fortunes compared to what they were under Adrian Delia. ‘Look at what Delia achieved in the MEP election – 38%, Bernard Grech got us 42% in the General Election,’ they claim.

But what happened is like what has always happened. In the 2014 MEP election under Simon Busuttil, the PN obtained 40% of the vote, and then in the 2017 general election it got 44%. The same under Lawrence Gonzi, when in the 2009 MEP election the Party had garnered 40%, and then in the 2013 general election it had risen to 43%. The Nationalist Party always gets between 3% and 4% more of the vote between an MEP election and a general election as more Nationalists turn out to vote in the latter.

The third pillar of the establishment’s strategy is to point the finger at the Delia faction, who supposedly carried out a sabotage exercise. Pro-Delia MPs who did not stand for election affected the result especially in the sixth and ninth districts. Moreover, those non-establishment MPs that ran were also up to monkey business. The establishment pundits are noting that trends in the legacy of first preference votes indicate tactical voting against establishment candidates. For example, less than one in three extra Alex Borġ votes were inherited by Chris Said. Fewer than one in eight of Joe Giglio’s extra votes on the ninth district went to Beppe Fenech Adami, while on the 10th district less than one in ten of his extra votes went to Karol Aquilina.

The establishment did its best during the election campaign to obscure the two deputy leaders. The strategy worked. Robert Arrigo compared to 2017 was down by a quarter of votes, and so was David Agius. At the first indications of the electoral outcome, the establishment started its whispering campaign. This accelerated when Robert Arrigo called on social media for the help of Roberta Metsola.

Now Arrigo was crucial in bringing the party’s financial situation back in the black after the disaster left by Simon Busuttil, under whose watch the PN’s debt skyrocketed. Everyone remembers Clyde Puli’s resignation letter which had called that debt a millstone. But the establishment thinks now it is time to go back to the Busuttil management days, and like Clyde Puli, now Robert Arrigo is going out of the way. This leaves David Agius for the remaining scapegoat spot.

With the removal of the two Deputy Leaders, the Blue Heroes’ plan to take back the Party will finally have succeeded. Although many are thinking that this faction took a hit in the election, in reality, its strength is still enough to dominate the Party especially because the party’s new MPs are disjointed and as yet have little or no influence at the Dar Centrali. The establishment has succeeded to turn the Party’s defeat into its own ultimate victory.  

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