Another year, another legislature which has seen its end, and a promised new chapter for the people of Malta. On Sunday 27th of March, we woke up to the news that the Labour Party had once again managed to achieve another landslide victory and will steer us into the next 5 years with their vision for Malta over the course of the next five years. There are a few things to consider, such as the lower than usual voter turnout, but there are a few thoughts devised in this contribution including: how the Labour Party should not get too comfortable, some sentiments on third parties and how their prominence is increasing (as it should). But in this particular contribution, we will be discussing something wholly different: Where does the PN go from here?
Over the course of the general election, both parties have tried their utmost to divulge their governance pitches and intentions through daring gatherings and rallies, coupled with tumultuous campaigns composed of impactful marketing- a few slip ups for both, but it is an electoral campaign after all.. These are a few observations on the PN’s attempt at ‘time-to-pick-up the pieces’ and starting from the very beginning post-election task:
The Question of ‘Laburisti Ġenwini’
On a programme held during the weeks leading up to the election, on the national station TVM, Daniel Micallef, Deputy Leader for Internal Affairs of the Labour Party and David Agius, Deputy Leader of the Nationalist Party faced each other in a debate. A particular point which Hon. Agius making an appeal to the ‘genuine Labourites’ was something which opened the floor for discussion. The narrative ‘genuine Labourites’ is a narrative which, not only the Honourable Agius made use of, but many Nationalist politicians have indulged in its use over the course of time, including Bernard Grech.
The problem with this narrative, which the Nationalist Party seems to use with complete satisfaction and determination, paints a somewhat condescending picture. One which compliments the idea that the PN does not understand the needs or capabilities of the electoral landscape, for it assumes that ‘genuine Labourites’ cannot make their own judgements or withdraw their own objections about the party they support.
This does not mean that Labour supporters cannot be critical or disapprove of a particular position when they stand on another side of the political spectrum: they can and they should. This persistent repetition, made in a desperate attempt to attract this cluster of perhaps ideologically struggling voters, by claiming that it can cater for these gaps and that it can do a better job than the party it blames for these shortcomings. We saw this in Agius’ words and in the words of other Nationalist Party sympathisers. Bernard Grech has been trying to lift the Nationalist Party away from the chaos it has ensued in the past few years and the strife of the Delia years, but his task can surely be more impactful than just assuming that genuine and lifelong Labour voters need some sort of intellectual stimulation and enlightenment from the Nationalist Party. If the PN instead focused on collective pride and how their ‘nationalism’ can put undesired pressure off of all of us, maybe we can take them a little more seriously.
The crumbling ‘mosaic’
A mosaic, not a metaphorical one, is an interesting piece of art. Micro pieces of a solid, which may have absolutely no use in everyday life are used, all in the name of art. The pieces, however imperfect they are, with the fruit of the labour of the artist, have one common and contributing factor- they make up an assertive and compelling masterpiece which tells a story of its own- and yet, the pieces that hold it together have their own stories, complexities and peregrinations.
President Emeritus Eddie Fenech Adami used the very same metaphor to describe how the Nationalist Party is intrinsically composed: a group individuals who have different ideas and beliefs, but together, made the Nationalist Party what it was. Bernard Grech seems to have attempted to continue this legacy, even constructing an actual mosaic which graces the hall of the Nationalist Party Headquarters (art is always a good idea). But, metaphorically, has it proven to be the case?
Let us take the controversial subject of abortion: A while ago in a radio interview, Bernard Grech stated that anyone who campaigns for abortion (referred to as pro-choice) has no place in the Nationalist Party but later retracted his position, clarifying that freedom of thought is sacrosanct, but no one would be allowed to campaign for the legalisation or decriminalisation of abortion if they have any intention of running on the Nationalist Party ticket. Well, is Grech open to discussion like he said in the PN leadership debate or is he so staunchly conservative that the only option is to shut it down completely? The only people who are probably on their feet to know is the ABBA Party, so they can decide if they love him or hate him.
In a surprising turn of events, and you can say this was a right ‘shot himself in the foot’ moment, was when Grech admitted in a recent post-election television interview that there will be discipline enforced on internal party critics who caused harm through Facebook. Contrary to the whole idea of the PN’s ‘Kun il-Bidla’ campaign, which is an open portal for hearing out ideas and criticism from the people, we now have a contrarian approach whereby internal criticism and Facebook keyboard warriors will be disciplined.
What was refreshing about the Nationalist Party’s political endeavours over the course of the general election was the introduction of new blood and fresh ideas. But the thing is- did it work? Some new faces have actually outdone themselves and for this, we should applaud them. However, what is the use of bringing in new faces, if the sole purpose is just that? What one means by this is, what is the point of bringing in a new face, just for the sake of having a new face: does this mean veteran candidates are automatically prescribed as ‘ancient’, and will the ideas of the new faces, who probably understand a whole different generation and its ideas and needs, be understood and taken into account? We obviously cannot speak for what happens behind the closed doors of the PN Headquarters, but what has been manifested so far, has proven to be contrary to this sentiment.
The PN’s Nostalgia
A streak noticed in every debate which the Honourable Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition participated in, was the quest of achievements done by the Nationalist Party in their years of administration. We will give them some slack, the PN years were not all bad, EU accession is one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of this island. We should obviously commend the PN’s endeavours on this end. However, keeping the narrative from eighteen years ago is byzantine and goes against the whole prospect which the PN and everything which Grech has claimed the PN is not, has been trying to implement in its endeavours. And this is not just being said out of the blue, but it could be seen throughout the PN’s campaign and almost every speech made: a reflection that the PN’s past is a guarantee of a competent and bright future.
The reality for most of us is that, most of us do not want to go back to the start, but forward to where we should really be. The winner of the election is not anyone who is blue or red, it is one who will start a process of healing and regenerating. Someone who is progressive and open to criticism, who looks ahead and who learns from their mistakes.
The next thing that the Nationalist Party must do is…..nope, we cannot give the answer for that. Only the Nationalist Party can. They must reflect long and hard on a corral of things: Have they accepted their position as the Opposition before they can even think about governing, or will they remain tangled in nostalgia? Do they want to be people of principle, but open to new progressive ideas which the electoral landscape is open to discussing, or stay forever with the idea that ‘għall-PATRIA biss’?