Two years down the line from the election of Adrian Delia as Nationalist Party leader, the main opposition party has suffered an unparalleled loss at last Saturday’s polls, failing to deliver on all of the PN’s electoral targets.

Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia voting on Saturday.Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia voting on Saturday.

An evaluation of the PN’s results shows that apart from an unprecedented all-time low in terms of popular support and percentages nationwide, the PN’s leadership also failed to reach any of its other targets – to retain the third seat and to send to Brussels Frank Psaila – the main Delia-backed candidate from the pack.

“It’s a complete failure,” a party insider close to the current Nationalist Party leadership commented.

“It is even worse than we were hoping for. We thought that Psaila – who we backed openly and provided him with so much publicity, would finally make it. The fact that our own voters chose to ignore us and again elect [Roberta] Metsola and [David] Casa is a complete catastrophe for the leadership,” he admitted.

Last Saturday’s result at the polls were the worst for any PN leader since the country joined the EU in 2004.

In the preceding three elections, the PN always managed to maintain its nationwide standing with around 40 per cent of the vote share. Also, despite losing ground over the years, the PN has always increased its voters since 2004.

The weekend voting was an exception.

For the first time since the holding of MEP elections, the PN dipped below the 40 per cent mark, taking only 37.9 per cent of the vote – the worst result in the MEP elections.

Even worse, the PN did not increase its votes despite a larger electoral base.

With just 98,611 first preferences, the PN lost more than 2,000 votes since 2014, meaning that it did not manage to take any of the new votes which joined the electorate in the past five years.

Labour’s win, impressive but not largest ever

Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party, which last Saturday scored a remarkable victory, continued to increase its votes by almost 7,000 when compared to 2014.

However, in terms of percentage share, Labour’s most recent victory is not unprecedented.

In 2009, under Alfred Sant’s leadership and with Joseph Muscat vying for a seat in Brussels, Labour had succeeded in posting a better win than last Saturday’s, managing to take 54.7 per cent of the votes polled, 0.5 per cent better than last Saturday.

On the other hand, when the vote-gap between the two major parties is taken into account, Labour’s win this time around was the best registered so far over the PN, its historical political rival.

While in 2014, under the stewardship of Simon Busuttil, the difference between the PL and the PN stood at 13.3 per cent, under the leadership of Adrian Delia, the gap peaked to its highest ever, increasing by three per cent and now reaching 16.3 per cent.

For the first time since the holding of MEP elections, the PN dipped below the 40 per cent mark

Election 2019 blog: resignations and calls for Delia to step down

The way the electorate made its first count preference is also a message in itself. Last Saturday’s electoral results show that incumbent MEPs are by far in a much better position to beat any competition from their new rivals inside their own party, despite that the latter may have the ‘party machine’ backing them.

Miriam Dalli dominates Labour vote

On the Labour front, Miriam Dalli – former One TV journalist and touted to be Dr Muscat’s ‘favourite’ to take his place at Castille, has clearly become Labour’s ‘darling’.

With over 63,000 first count votes, Dr Dalli became the most popular Labour MEP candidate ever, even outshining Dr Muscat’s personal performance in the two EP elections he contested in 2004 and 2009.

More than four out of every 10 who voted Labour last Saturday, gave their first preference to Dr Dalli.

On the other hand, despite holding onto his seat in Brussels, former Labour leader Alfred Sant is an electoral spent force, losing more than 22,000 personal votes on 2014, decreasing his share by more than 17 per cent of Labour votes.

Dr Sant, 71, who had campaigned intensely against EU membership, has already declared that last Saturday’s was his last ever contest to public office.  

Labour’s two newcomers, Alex Agius Saliba and Gozitan Josianne Cutajar – little known nationwide – managed to outperform other ‘high profile’ candidates, particularly Cyrus Engerer and former l-Orizzont editor and now OPM official, Josef Caruana.

Alex Saliba, a young lawyer, took full advantage of his wife’s surname, adding Agius to his own while scaling to the top of his party’s list on the ballot sheet. This helped him to get more than 18,000 first preference votes. 

On the other hand, Josianne Cutajar, a Nadur councillor who worked closely at Castille with the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, managed to surpass comfortably other better known candidates, also thanks to a glitzy electoral campaign.

Despite high hopes in pre-vote surveys, former PN councillor and gay rights campaigner Engerer turned Labour did not manage to score very well, gaining less than four per cent of the Labour vote.

The fact that our own voters chose to ignore us is a complete catastrophe for the leadership

Mr Engerer’s was the second attempt as in 2014 he had to withdraw his candidacy at the eleventh hour after being found guilty by the courts of a criminal offence related to revenge porn. He was later made OPM envoy to Brussels by Dr Muscat.

PN voters pick incumbents

On the other hand, the PN’s voters also sent a strong message, particularly to the leadership.

Despite a harsh campaign against them by the Labour Party, dubbing them as ‘traitors’ and accusing both of working ‘against Malta’s interest’, particularly due to their interventions to expose Dr Muscat’s connections to the Panama Papers and the lack of rule of law, incumbents Roberta Metsola and David Casa not only managed to keep their seats but also increased their personal performance.

While Dr Metsola, a possible replacement of Dr Delia at the helm, consolidated her position as the lead PN candidate, gaining almost 40,000 first count votes and increasing her share among PN voters by 6.6 per cent over her 2014 performance, surprisingly Mr Casa also gained his share, although by 1.3 per cent. All polls published before the election had shown that Mr Casa – Malta’s longest-serving MEP – was struggling to keep up with Dr Psaila.

Dr Psaila, a former PN employee was openly backed by the party and its leadership, giving him all the publicity possible including the continuation of hosting a prime time TV programme on the party’s media even during the campaign.

Despite his intense social media campaign and push by the party echelons to represent the PN on State TV programmes, Mr Casa fought back and made a late comeback, surpassing the PN’s ‘star’ candidate.

Between them, the PN-elected MPs’ shared 60 per cent of the PN vote, which could also be interpreted as a message to the Delia leadership.

Labour supporters celebrating their party’s success on Sunday.Labour supporters celebrating their party’s success on Sunday.

Simon Busuttil retains the baton

On a personal candidate level, despite the strong showing by Dr Dalli at last Saturday’s polls, the baton of the most popular candidate ever remained with former PN leader Simon Busuttil.

Read: Do not downplay electoral defeat, says former PN leadership contender

Dr Busuttil, one of the protagonists of the PN’s campaign for Malta to join the European Union, had registered a personal record in 2009, gaining almost 70,000 first count votes or 68.4 per cent of all the votes polled by the PN.

The former PN leader had managed to improve his own record, registered in 2004, when he had gained 58,899 first count votes taking 60.2 per cent from all the PN’s share.

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