The general council is arguably the most important organ of the Nationalist Party, mainly due to the responsibilities assigned to it by the party statute.
As we can appreciate, a statute is not a monolithic political instrument but a set of rules to govern an organisation, which may be amended or adjusted to meet new challenges and to adapt to particular situations.
The present format of the PN general council is, precisely, a case in point, having been beefed up several times with the latest adjustments being a result of a PN commission to revise the party statute, put in place by former leader Simon Busuttil and headed by my friend and colleague Francis Zammit Dimech, four years ago.
The council as we know it nowadays is relatively recent in the 137 years of existence of the PN. It was the fruit of a wide-ranging revision of the statute in 1975, which further democratised the PN with reforms and new structures.
What happened 42 years ago is extensively explained and analysed in the autobiographies of Eddie Fenech Adami, Guido de Marco and Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, and also in those of George Borg Olivier and Ċensu Tabone, both authored by Henry Frendo, Malta’s chief historian.
The changes then proposed for the approval of the party congress in Sliema on March 9, 1975, were to prove – by the passage of time – totally effective and served well their scope both when the party was leading the government, and also when in opposition.
In his autobiography, Fenech Adami states the congress meeting proved to be a turning point in the PN’s history and he adds that “the structure, still in place today, means there is no way the leader can impose anything on the party, but must instead go through its democratic structures or practically all significant matters”.
The main amendment in the 1975 revision was to abolish the party congress as its highest organ and instead reshape and reorganise the general council, firstly to have a president chosen by members of this council instead of having the party leader ipso facto as its president.
A subsequent amendment was to have the party leader elected from the members of the general council. Fenech Adami, Lawrence Gonzi and Simon Busuttil were elected through this method.
The main amendment in the 1975 revision was to abolish the party congress as its highest organ and instead reshape and reorganise the general council
The new party statute was finally approved after a long-drawn process of internal discussions, at congress, with 829 voting in favour and 629 voting against.
Fenech Adami was eventually elected as the first president of the general council in its new format and with such important functions such as choosing the party leader, approve electoral programmes, decide on amendments to the statute, approve candidates and approve the secretary general’s report on the state of the party.
For quite a long time all these changes served their purpose and gave excellent results. After the 2013 electoral defeat, the PN decided to look once again at its statute and structures. Zammit Dimech was tasked to preside over a 12-person commission to perform this enormous job and they, eventually, came up with another milestone for the PN with a raft of recommendations, approved later by the general council.
These proposals were, once again, to continue democratising the party. The main amendment was to introduce a new method to elect the party leader by which the general council will taper the list of candidates to the leadership to two who will then contest the final round opened to all paid-up party members for the last two years prior to the same election. Other amendments approved in 2014, impacted directly the PN general council which resulted in a bigger council, taking it from around 900 to 1,300 members. This came about by adding as members of the council all those who throughout the years were elected as members of Parliament (excluding those who were either expelled or resigned from the party); all those who were elected as MEPs on behalf of PN; and all the members of the executive committees of all branches and movements of the PN as per its statute.
One other important amendment was that which enlarged the number of people elected to the executive committee by means of an election among members of the general council. Eighteen members were to be elected, half of which were to be women, in a separate list from that of male contestants.
All the changes effected throughout all these years confirmed the importance the PN gives to its general council which for the last 42 years, was presided by Eddie Fenech Adami, Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, Tonio Borg, Frank Portelli, Victor Scerri and Paula Mifsud Bonnici. In the election which took place recently, I was honoured to succeed these astounding personalities.
I feel indebted to all those who supported my candidature but I hasten to add my appreciation for all those 1,276 councillors who voted in that election, and to friend and colleague Ċensu Galea, a sincere party veteran, who contested with me, in the same election.
While I humbly start this new experience in my political life, I pledge to all party members and sympathisers that I will do all it takes to be of service to them and to the party in the best interests of our proud nation.
Kristy Debono is president of the Nationalist Party general council.
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