Last Sunday’s political survey published in MaltaToday was very positive for the Nationalist Party and must have sent jitters inside Labour headquarters.

In a single month, Labour lost 4.8 percentage points while the PN gained 6.5 points. In real terms, the PN gained roughly 20,000 votes while Labour lost about 15,000 votes, resulting in a net gain for the PN of circa 35,000 votes. Furthermore, for the first time in many months, the PN won back the majority in the northern districts.

How is that possible, one may ask. The answer lies partly in the data available in the survey itself and partly in the behaviour of the players within the PN.

Let us first look at the data.

For the last three years, the PN had a vote retention of approximately 56 per cent. The vote retention refers to the percentage of voters who had voted PN in the 2017 general election and who are declaring they will revote PN if an election is held at the time of the survey. The corresponding figure for Labour was always hovering above the 90 per cent mark.

These figures suggest that thousands of PN voters were not willing to vote PN again at the next election. Even more worrying for the PN was the fact that there was a constant migration of voters to Labour and this was resulting in it registering surreal majorities.

At the same time, despite all the negative news surrounding the Labour government, the party managed to hold on to almost its entire 2017 vote.

This has all changed now.

The PN’s retention vote has now shot up to 72.8 per cent while Labour’s has gone down to 77.3 per cent. These shifts have had a significant impact on the result. But this alone would not have contributed to the current state of affairs.

Apart from the retention issue, the PN’s vote haemorrhage to Labour appears to have stopped and, even though the numbers are still small, there are more Labour voters declaring a shift to PN than the other way round. It is still early days to come to any conclusions. We have to wait to confirm or otherwise whether this is a new trend. Still, this is another encouraging sign.

The road for the PN to win the next election is uphill but possible.- Hermann Schiavone

At this stage, it is pertinent to highlight that over 25 per cent of the electorate are either undecided or not voting. A total of 75,000 votes are still up for grabs. They are sitting on a bridge between the two political parties and still have to  decide which way to go. A significant number of the undecided have recently migrated from Labour. Will they return to Labour or will they cross the bridge to the PN? 

The context within which this result ought to be analysed is last month’s PN’s leadership election. The behaviour of the main players in the aftermath had most definitely influenced the poll’s outcome. Bernard Grech’s call for unity went down well with the PN supporters but it would have been all in vain had Adrian Delia chosen to react to the result differently.

Delia’s instant reaction of pledging his loyalty to the new leader was significant.

He could have reacted differently. Despite being disappointed after his election loss, he did the right thing. He chose to be part of the solution for party unity.

The million dollar question is whether the PN can build on this result. Are these results the start of a new beginning? Is it possible for the PN to make more inroads? How much of Labour’s majority can the PN eat away until the general election?

As for the first question, this may be the start of a new beginning for the PN. For the PN to succeed, however, space must be created for all those wishing to contribute. The mosaic metaphor must be put into practice. We are different people with different ideas but together we can offer a better government than Labour.

I am more than confident that the PN will make further inroads but let us not get the impression that the inroads will be at the same levels registered over the last month. When one goes on a diet, the first five kilos of fat will disappear quickly but eliminating the sixth and seventh kilo will prove to be harder and requires much more sacrifice. The same goes with winning over the electorate.

The first 30,000 votes could be attracted with some effort but it will take much more time, hard work and convincing to attract the next 30,000 required to win the election.

The road for the PN to win the next election is uphill but possible. The latest survey results are encouraging and clearly demonstrate signs of recovery.

Hermann Schiavone is a Nationalist MP.

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