It was not the defeat that took the Nationalist Party by surprise but the margin of Labour's victory, party insiders have said.

"We admit we did not see this coming and, according to the information we have, not even Labour was expecting such a result,” one official told Times of Malta.

PN insiders said officials were incredulous when they started seeing the first unofficial results.

“A few minutes after the sorting of the first preferences started, there were indications of a big win for Labour, a repetition of 2013,” an official said.

Party officials said although it was always going to be an uphill struggle for any party starting with a disadvantage of 36,000 votes, the past four years of “scandals” and “abnormality” in the county had led many to believe that “a miracle could happen”.

History was also against a Nationalist Party win at the polls because, since the two-party system started in the 1960s, the incumbent always won a second mandate, with the exception of 1998, when then prime minster Alfred Sant called an election after only 22 months in power and lost.

The officials said that although PN pollsters were noticing a consistent win for Labour, they were never expecting such a large majority.

Labour insiders were saying informally that the PL was in for a win of less than 20,000

"Labour insiders were saying informally that the PL was in for a win of less than 20,000. Not even the PL was expecting a repetition of 2013," they remarked.

PN candidates reported a wave of switchers returning to the party, giving the PN hope it could pull this election by a small majority by the end of the campaign, the officials noted.

The future of the PN leadership has now taken centre stage as many officials feel the party will need to start a fresh page. While acknowledging that Dr Busuttil managed to rise to the occasion and had become a very strong leader, particularly among the rank and file, it would be difficult for him to stay at the helm in view of such a devastating result, the said.

“The Nationalist Party will need to have a clean slate, with all those at the top, the leader and his deputies, making way for new faces to take the lead,” one senior official said.

Immediately conceding defeat as soon as it became clear the PN had suffered its second consecutive major electoral defeat to Labour, Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil, who followed the results from his home in Lija, called Prime Minister Joseph Muscat congratulating him on his party’s success at the polls.

In a short TV interview on Net TV later in the afternoon, Dr Busuttil said that although he was disappointed with the result, the PN, as always, fully respected the people’s decision.

“I am proud to have represented our principles and beliefs of seeking the truth, honesty and good governance,” he said.

Without entering into his political future, Dr Busuttil said the PN had managed to light a flame of hope and it was essential that it remained alight.

He said the party would now embark on an internal process to analyse the result of the election and move forward to continue serving the country as a strong Opposition.

Dr Busuttil has often said his mission was not dictated by any personal ambition but by his sense of duty to serve.

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