Sometimes Simon Busuttil is criticised for being a weak leader. I disagree, and I will say why. Let’s go back some years. In the early years leading to the run-up to Malta’s EU accession, I was active in left-wing group Moviment Graffitti.
We wanted an informed debate on whether to support Malta’s EU accession or not. So we organised two respective debates with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, who was heading the Campaign for National Independence, and Simon Busuttil, who was heading the Malta-EU Information Centre.
It was the first time I met Simon.
I remember him putting forward convincing, rational arguments for EU accession. Such reasoned, realistic and left-of-centre arguments charmed me.
They were very similar to those of my inspirational friend and fellow sociologist Noel Agius. When I then joined the Green Party, the knowledge I obtained from such persons equipped me during the campaign for Malta’s EU accession.
Malta consequently joined the European Union and Simon was elected MEP with incredible support. I did not meet him again for some years.
As the 2013 general election was approaching, I met Simon in political debates. I was then leader of the Green Party and he was PN deputy leader.
We did not agree on everything, but we debated respectfully. A far cry from other debates I had with some others such as the then-unknown Konrad Mizzi, who excelled in hysterics when we debated on Norman Vella’s TVHemm.
Simon Busuttil is a leader who listens and takes up innovative ideas but who is also determined in his position
The 2013 general election came and went, Mizzi became part of Labour’s Panama triumvirate and Simon became leader of the Opposition, leaving his lucrative career of Europarliamentarian.
Subsequently, I met Simon some other times, for example when I was invited to address a PN convention with others such as the late Jacqueline Azzopardi and James Debono, in Front Harsien ODZ public activities against the Żonqor development and in some other meetings.
Late in 2015, when Labour’s governance deficit was increasing by the day, I penned an article in the Times of Malta arguing for a rainbow coalition. Eventually, Marlene Farrugia and her new formation, the PD, negotiated with Simon’s PN and formed Forza Nazzjonali.
In 2016, I proposed this idea face to face both to Simon and Arnold Cassola in separate meetings.
Simon made it clear to me that while the PN can open up to collaborate with others, it cannot change its name. Here I immediately noted that Simon is a leader who listens and takes up new ideas but who is also determined in his position. And judging by PN’s agreement with PD, I think that his position is sensible, proportionate and realistic.
I also noted Simon’s determination when he took clear and correct positions on various issues and internal appointments, some of which were not very comforting for some within his own party. He also attracted some new faces to the PN.
When Simon asked me whether I would like to contest the general elections, I explained that I have no aspiration to become a member of parliament. He gently accepted my position, and did not try to pressure me.
And when I decided out of my own will to attend the national protest against corruption of April 24, he also invited me to address it, which I accepted.
I think that the way he mixes his determination with his hearing skills can also be seen in the way he works. Unlike pop politicians who agree with whatever you tell them but then act in other ways, he politely tells you when he disagrees with you.
The man has character.
His two deputy leaders represent different wings in the party. His coalition with PD shows that he respects Farrugia for what she is. The various progressive proposals being put forward by Forza Nazzjonali show that PN is not ossified into ideological dead ends, but is responsive to people’s aspirations, to its coalition partners and to civil society.
What a difference from Malta’s current Prime Minister. Joseph Muscat tries to give an impression of strength, but he is afraid to debate with Farrugia and to accept the European Parliament’s invitation to discuss Panama Papers.
Above all, he is afraid of completing a five-year legislature.