Updated at 5.24pm 

The Nationalist Party’s campaign for next month’s European elections began with a stutter on Monday, with some of the party’s grassroots unimpressed by the party’s “negative” messaging and Labour pouncing on a spelling mistake on one of its billboards. 

Plenty of internal criticism for the PN's billboard strategy.Plenty of internal criticism for the PN's billboard strategy.

The party’s first set of billboards, which appeared on Sunday night, took swipes at the government for rising cost of living, meagre pensions and corruption allegations.

On Monday, discussion within internal PN chat groups was not entirely complimentary.

“Embarrassing… we’ve ended up with no ideas,” wrote one follower. 

"So much for Simon [Busuttil] being negative and us changing tune," wrote another. "We've remained the same".

The critical comments, seen by Times of Malta, forced secretary general Clyde Puli to defend the party’s strategy.

“Labour used to discuss the oil scandal, Arriva etc.,” he wrote. “And they won”.

“Their supporters did not call them negative,” Mr Puli told PN voters who were unhappy with the party’s first set of electoral billboards. “We will criticise. Because we are the Opposition and that is part of our job… the Labour government is corrupt and nothing should stop us from fighting this fight.”

His battle cry did not win over all internal sceptics, though.

“We’re not going to win over people if we keep ‘moaning’,” one replied. “The criticism is factual, but young people do not want to hear negativity….why why why? I miss our old PN”.


Billboard battle

While Mr Puli was weathering internal criticism, the party’s Labour rivals were hard at work belittling the party for a spelling mistake on one of its billboards.

The PN was forced to replace billboards highlighting the rising cost of living within hours of putting them up, after discovering that they had misspelled “togħla” [is rising].

The PN spelling mistake.The PN spelling mistake.

Within hours, a billboard mocking that oversight appeared in Santa Venera.

“Together for against our country,” the billboard read, with a note in scrawled script above.

“Sorry… we found another mistake,” it read.

The Labour Party has repeatedly accused the PN opposition of going out of its way to damage Malta's reputation overseas. 

A Sunday Times of Malta survey published earlier this month indicated that Labour enjoys a massive lead over the PN in the run-up to the May elections, with 59 per cent of voters saying they will vote PL, compared to just 37 per cent for PN.

The billboard typo recalled a similarly embarrassing typo back in 2016, when authorities had put up a billboard welcoming heads of 'goverment' [sic] ahead of Malta's EU Council presidency. 

Labour wasted no time in responding.Labour wasted no time in responding.

Tit-for-tat

As the billboard battle heated up on social media, Nationalist voters used their photo editing skills to hit back at their Labour rivals.

"We made a mistake," photo-edited versions of a PL billboard read, with the messages followed by a variety of punch lines, among them "Air Malta did not make a profit" or "Partnership won". 

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