A few weeks ago, the Nationalist Party suffered its worst electoral defeat since World War II. This result cannot be swept under the carpet as if nothing had happened.
Unfortunately, the reaction of the party leadership to this result was out of sync: blaming some MPs, “pseudo-bloggers”, “pseudo-NGOs”, the independent media, the voters who stayed at home, the voters in one district or the other. Blaming everything and everyone except ourselves is just an excuse to escape reality.
We are simply repeating the same mistakes, when results were blamed on another blogger, this or that independent media, and voters who “failed to understand us”. That attitude will get us nowhere. The only place we need to look at if we want to change back into a winning party is in the mirror.
MPs are constitutional representatives of more than 135,000 voters that the party cannot afford to alienate. And really and truly, save for some sporadic outbursts on the social media from just a handful, none of them has ever failed the party or stepped out of line with any of its core beliefs.
As for bloggers, the independent media and NGOs, they are completely outside the party’s control. I shudder to think that anyone within the party, which has always championed freedom of expression and individual rights, believes we have some divine right to shut them up.
Yes, the party is divided. It is not divided between the “Delia faction” and the “Simon faction”. That is purely a Labour conjecture.
Simon Busuttil has repeatedly stated he has no interest in any party role ever in the future and he has purposely stayed out of the limelight on party matters.
Nor is it divided between “the establishment” and the “new way”. That is yet another conjecture. If anything, most of the people surrounding Delia and within his inner circle are more “establishment” than the previous leadership, while most of the people supporting our motion are the party’s new blood: youngsters and people who have never been anywhere near a position of power. By no stretch of the imagination can we be labelled as “old guard” or “establishment” except by those who want to spin like Labour.
But it is divided, yes, between those who believe the party can unite and fight a general election with Adrian Delia at the helm, and those who don’t; between those who believe Delia might one day make inroads and those who believe that he is unelectable.
But, ultimately, it is the leadership’s responsibility to unite the party. Likewise, it is the leadership’s responsibility to win voters’ trust. It is the leadership’s responsibility to win the MPs’ trust. It is the leadership’s responsibility to convince bloggers and NGOs that it is fighting their same fight.
It is for councillors to decide whether they prefer a leader who inspires trust rather than one who rules by fear
It can claim no right on the votes of people it labels as “Nationalists who refuse to accept the democratically elected leader”.
Voters make their own choices. If a leader does not inspire their trust, no one can expect them to simply submit and go out to vote for his party.
No one owes the Nationalist Party his vote. Trust is not owed. It must be earned.
That is why, in view of the electoral results, I advised our party leader and general secretary that, for the sake of our party’s unity and progress, there was no option but to resign and make space for a new unifying leadership that can rebuild the bridges we have burnt with many core Nationalist voters.
I not only advised it, I also took the first step and resigned as president of the party’s executive committee.
Since then, the leadership has made one mistake after the other. The parliamentary co-option debacle caused a week of infighting that could have been avoided. Their refusal to even put the leadership to test has wasted two precious months in the process of refounding and rebuilding the party.
It was this lethargy and stubborn refusal to face reality that convinced me to accept Ivan Bartolo’s invitation to join his call to convene the party’s General Council to give our councillors the opportunity to express whether they still have trust in the party leader.
I agree with those who say this should have been avoided. A politically mature leader would have called the vote himself. It would have been less divisive and it would have earned him respect.
That is how true leaders behave.
It is now up to the party councillors to decide: whether they want to hang on to Delia until the next election, ignoring the writing on the wall evident from these election results and the regularly published trust ratings, or whether they believe that we can avoid a total meltdown by changing leadership and changing the misguided path that the party has taken in the past two years.
It is for councillors to decide whether they prefer a leader who inspires trust rather than one who rules by fear. A leadership that stretches a hand of welcome instead of bullying people into submission. A leadership that can focus on a winning strategy for the party rather than just spend its time firefighting its own mistakes.
I will bow down to whatever the party’s highest organ decides as I have always done.
But councillors should not forget that none of the 400,000 voters out there is obliged to. And those are the ones who we need to convince for the PN to win again.
Mark Anthony Sammut is a former president of the PN executive committee.