Any way you look at it, the Nationalist Party needs a new leader to take it towards the next general election.
In its leadership contest this week, the 21,500 party members eligible to vote have nothing to lose. Staunch supporters of Adrian Delia may have some pride to sacrifice if they turn to Bernard Grech. But that’s a small price to pay for a fresh start at reviving the party and a new attempt at giving the country the strong opposition it needs to threaten Labour’s hegemony.
Conversely, re-electing Delia would probably lead to the disintegration of the PN. It is unlikely that Delia and the group of dissident MPs who tried to oust him will be able to live together, let alone present the united party needed to become a credible opposition.
Delia has had a few great falls and stands no chance of drawing the internal support he needs to put his badly-dented authority back together again.
Delia would remain a lame duck purely for the fact he lost a series of confidence votes within the party structures. He has had a few great falls and stands no chance of drawing the internal support he needs to put his badly-dented authority back together again.
He has proven to be a leader whose divisiveness has helped bring out the worst of his party. The PN has become a place where its officials and MPs openly snipe at each other and where infighting seems to have become entrenched.
He demonstrates a xenophobic and populist streak, and his baggage continues to weigh both him and the party down. New revelations about his financial affairs continue to batter his standing among the electorate, as polls consistently show.
The fact he is being supported by the Labour Party and its media in the leadership election speaks volumes, of course. Can Labour make it any more blatantly obvious that they fear Grech more than they do Delia?
His challenger, Grech, has so far done little to inspire. There have been no bold policy ideas or indications he has a clear idea or where to take the PN. Instead, he played it safe by speaking in political cliches and leaning heavily on the one thing his rival has no hope of promising – party unity.
Grech has also fallen short when it comes to financial probity.
Revelations that he did not file a proper tax return for 12 consecutive years are hardly the clean slate the country so desperately needs after Muscat’s Labour and Delia’s PN.
He must now be true to his admission he was not careful enough. The last thing Malta needs is another leader who loses sight of why he is there: to serve the nation, not himself.
Should Grech be elected, his first, vital mission will be to clearly articulate what he stands for. He must go one step further than his predecessors and will be expected to present a lucid vision for a modern Malta voters can identify with.
If the PN is to attract lost voters, it will have to embrace minority causes which, under Delia, it has actively shunned, and up the ante to protect what is left of Malta’s natural environment. It must do this even if that means sacrificing certain lobbyists or attracting criticism from its most reactionary wing.
The PN has little chance of winning the next general election, even if it emerges from this week’s leadership race stronger than it entered it.
But the course taken by the pandemic and the economic destruction it has left in its wake, mean Labour can no longer bank on the feel-good factor to defeat the wave of corruption, more of which is coming to the fore.
And Robert Abela is no Joseph Muscat: the polls show he does not command the blind trust his predecessor did among Labour-leaning voters.
PN members must remember what three years of Delia’s leadership has led to, when they cast their votes. It now has a chance to start inching its way back to respectability.
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