The Nationalist Party had the necessary structures for those wanting to express dissent but what mattered at this point in time was the courage to stand up and be counted, former leader Lawrence Gonzi told Keith Micallef.
What is your evaluation of the current state of the Nationalist Party? Do you subscribe to views it is at its lowest ebb ever?
There is no doubt whatsoever the party is facing a number of challenges that need to be addressed with urgency and courage but also with a strong sense of loyalty towards our values. The party has a duty to the country first and foremost and, therefore, it is expected to perform its duties as a strong Opposition that is able to defend our country’s reputation while offering an economic vision that guarantees continued well-being for everyone.
What are the reasons for the decline the party has suffered since 2003?
The party has always had a major political vision that excited and inspired people. It has managed to deliver on all its major promises throughout its history and Malta in 2019 is the Malta that had been designed by the PN and no one else.
Malta is a successful EU member, with a vibrant economy that encourages the private sector to invest in the island but also to look beyond our shores. We have a younger generation that is today able to benefit from a wide spectrum of education opportunities enhanced by EU opportunities that the Labour Party would have denied them.
All of this was the result of some tough decisions that needed to be made. We had to restructure our public and private sector to introduce the euro in 2008. This helped us face the financial and economic crisis between 2008 and 2013 but, even then, tough and very unpopular decisions needed to be made.
We were obviously aware that in politics tough decisions often lead to loss of votes, which is exactly what happened. For example, we are criticised for having increased the water and electricity rates but this criticism fails to recognise the fact that the price of oil shot sky-high.
The long and short of it is that the decline in popularity for the PN since 2003 was, in part, due to the tough decisions that had to be made. Of course, I am the first to admit that mistakes were committed but the economic results we achieved in tough times together with the high international and European reputation of Malta speak for themselves. Contrast this to today’s state of play.
What are the factors that contributed to the dismal result in Saturday’s European elections, which is the worst since 1951?
I will not mince my words. The results clearly show that there is a sizeable faction of PN voters who decided to vote in a manner that sends a strong message to the PN’s present leader, his advisers and the party officials. This faction includes voters who decided to abstain from voting.
Adrian Delia should put his leadership on the line and prove himself to be worthy of the honour to lead the party
Accepting this as an undisputable fact is fundamental, otherwise the PN will remain unable to regain lost ground. This is evident, especially from the results registered in key stronghold districts that have traditionally supported the PN.
This situation reminds me of a similar situation faced by Labour in 1998 when Alfred Sant antagonised a large chunk of Labour voters because of the “Mintoff traditur” (Mintoff traitor) issue. The very positive results achieved by the PN at the time, both in the local council elections and the 1998 general election, are again self-evident. This is not the only reason for this 2019 negative result, but it is one of the most important.
What is the way forward for the PN to start regaining ground outside the party walls, within the electorate?
In my opinion there are two measures that need to be taken immediately.
Dr Delia needs to go through an exercise that challenges his leadership. If reconfirmed, then everyone needs to close this chapter and focus on strengthening the party’s unity over the next two years.
The second – and, possibly, more important – challenge is to present the Maltese electorate with an economic vision that guarantees the future well-being of our people but with Malta’s reputation fully reintegrated in the international arena. The PN is the only party that is able to do this.
Do the right forums exist in the current structure for anybody who would like to express dissent within the party?
Yes, certainly. The issue is not the structure but the courage to stand up and be counted.
Is there still time for Dr Delia to win the support of his critics even internally or is it too late now? How would you go about it?
In politics it is never too late. Back in 2008, all pundits predicted a major loss for the PN in the general election. I won that election by sheer determination and conviction that our policies were the best. But I too made some tough decisions within the party even though they could have put my political career at risk.
Should Dr Delia resign?
Adrian Delia should put his leadership on the line and prove himself to be worthy of the honour to lead the party. Whatever people say, he is the legitimate leader of the PN as a result of a democratic process that took place 18 months ago. However, the circumstances today demand that he recognises the present state of affairs and move forward to face the challenge head-on.
If he decides to stay, should Dr Delia call for a vote of confidence to gauge his support within the party as you had done in 2012?
In 2012, I faced a situation where my leadership was put in doubt. I had an option of resigning or face the challenge. I chose to face the challenge head-on and put my leadership (and, of course, my prime ministership) on the line for the benefit of the party and the country.
Looking back, I believe it was the right decision as it legitimised my decision to stay on until the end of the legislature, facing the challenges of an economic and financial crisis that saw the economy of larger countries collapse and millions of workers and pensioners suffering as a result. Thank God, we managed to avoid all this.
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