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MALTATODAY 9 June 2019

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18 maltatoday EXECUTIVE EDITOR Matthew Vella MANAGING EDITOR Saviour Balzan Letters to the Editor, MaltaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 9016 E-mail: Letters must be concise, no pen names accepted, include full name and address maltatoday | SUNDAY • 9 JUNE 2019 8 June, 2009 Gonzi - ''I assume responsibility'' NATIONALIST MEP Simon Busuttil led the electoral race yesterday as expected, with Na- tionalist electoral agents saying he would eas- ily garner anything close to 53,000 first count votes – well over the 40,000 quota. Despite the success of the PN frontrunner, his party leader had to face a humiliating de- feat at the hands of Labour's absolute majority of 54% compared to the PN's 40% – up one per cent from their disastrous 2004 outing – while Alternattiva Demokratika floundered at a dismal 2.13%, their worst showing after their successful 9.3% in 2004. Displaced by some 30,000 votes, it was clear that Lawrence Gonzi's electoral victory of 2008 had now swung back to Labour. The sole con- solation would be a third seat for the PN, if and when the Lisbon Treaty is fully ratified across Europe, with MEP David Casa and Roberta Metsola Tedesco Triccas joining Busuttil in Brussels. As for Labour, it was clear that MEP incum- bent Louis Grech was heading straight for re-election, while former MP Joseph Cuschieri, Edward Scicluna, as well as Marlene Mizzi and Claudette Abela Baldacchino were battling it out for the remaining two seats. Far-rightist Norman Lowell and Arnold Cas- sola were reportedly running neck and neck throughout the race. Collectively, Lowell, Azz- joni Nazzjonali, Libertas candidate Mary Gauci and independent candidates garnered 2.59% altogether. Facing the first press conference after his defeat, Prime Minister and Nationalist Party leader Lawrence Gonzi claimed the final result for the PN was "worse than we wished for, but better than expected." Gonzi said that at one point the PN feared that even its second seat was in jeopardy and that turnout would be as low as 75%. Accord- ing to Gonzi this scenario would have meant a projection of 35% for the PN, instead of the actual 40%. With a delivery that was seemingly bet- ter than his electoral campaign addresses, a somewhat relieved Lawrence Gonzi spelt out a number of mistakes committed by his admin- istration. MaltaToday asked Gonzi whether the blame for the defeat could be laid on the GonziPN strategy, considering that mathematically it was proven that thousands of former National- ist votes had switched to Labour, and whether he would be shouldering the responsibility of this defeat. "Yes. I have no doubt that there were Na- tionalists who voted Labour. And there were Nationalists who did not cast there vote. I re- ceived emails myself. I know some of the rea- sons," Gonzi said. MaltaToday 10 years ago Quote of the Week Gazing into the future Editorial "There are different ways of assuming responsibility... I am obliged to see what is wrong, and what the change the PN has yet to make, is" Opposition leader Adrian Delia says he will not step down after the 2019 election drubbing THE PN surely did not need the wisdom of its former secretary-general to gaze into a crystal ball to find out about its chances at the next general election. Joe Saliba, a man who tasted the glory of the party during the Fenech Adami era, and who skillfully navigated Lawrence Gonzi dur- ing the explosive Mistragate affair, is today looking at a different, and divided party. Some internal critics at the PN headquar- ters will probably see Saliba as part of the reason for the financial deficits the party has incurred over the past 10 years. When he exited politics, the PN was at the apex of its political destiny, delivering Malta from its non-aligned isolationism to the promised spring of European Union acces- sion. What was left for the PN to do at that point, this newspaper once asked Saliba? Reap the benefits of EU accession of course, he had replied, with Gonzi then step- ping in as a prime minister, seeking "efficien- cies" and "competitiveness" in the country, two watchwords from the PN lexicon at the time. In another interview right before the bitter 2004 PN leadership election, Saliba acknowl- edged the fact that the party had its own fac- tions with their own different visions for the party. "The new leader will be showing his mettle when seeking compromise between these forces. This is the crucial factor in our party," he had said. On both these two fronts, the PN's future seems to have been completely derailed at that point: once inside the EU, the PN sat on its laurels and refused to catch up with the thirst for change that Maltese society de- manded now that it could be free to aspire to European standards; and on the second front, the Gonzi faction would not only alienate the John Dalli faction – problematic though that minister would always be – but also be part of an unofficial media campaign to punch down hard on internal critics with the power of the poison pen, and by ascribing guilt by association at will. When Saliba left the PN, the party was a year away from a dramatic loss at the Euro- pean elections. Labour was now led by the young Joseph Muscat, a man Gonzi thought would be a weaker adversary than his leader- ship rival George Abela – whom he kicked upstairs to the Presidency, relieving Muscat of any reference point for opposing factions. Nothing would be the same for the PN after 2009. It was the beginning of the end, with al- ienated MPs making life hard in Gonzi's parliamentary one-seat majority, a divorce referendum and bitter debate on censorship becoming enduring images of the PN's invet- erate and obdurate conservatism. Even with the benefit of hindsight, a man like Lawrence Gonzi, who as party leader never obtained one single absolute major- ity for the PN, should also be cautious about demanding confidence votes from the Oppo- sition leader. Adrian Delia's democratic election was de- tested by the party establishment once loyal to Gonzi and later Simon Busuttil but Delia's departure from a party struggling with an identity crisis left to worsen from the Gonzi era, will not change the PN's fortunes. Delia may well stay on as a lame duck till the next election unless anybody is willing to mount a challenge and take up the poisoned chalice that is the divided PN. But the party will still face the risk of per- manently becoming a second party and lose its ability to command sustained electoral majorities from the political centre. The PN is up against a formidable electoral machine in tune with Maltese aspirations but at risk of losing pockets of society alienated by the speed of economic growth. There is no doubt that unless Delia can articulate the ideological change the PN re- quires to start moving into a direction that brings it closer to power, his days are, indeed, numbered. The embattled leader makes himself available to the press and critics, as his recent Xarabank confrontation – an assemblage of party sideshows and other benign observers – shows. Delia thinks that his openness to scrutiny furthers his popular appeal. But politics is made of sterner stuff. In- spiration and hope is key, and the PN's disastrous campaign in the 2019 European elections offered none of that. If Delia can- not offer ideological direction, if he cannot articulate what a modern conservative, and Christian-democratic party in Malta should stand for, and how it will align itself on issues that might challenge that identity, the PN cannot hope for deliverance. The PN has already been dismembered by wedge issues like gay marriage and adoptions; without a socially liberal orientation it will be condemned to stay as a large minority party. Its moralistic umbrage on corruption and good governance have also failed to damage the Labour government's chances at the last elections. Surely there must be another way. A lurch to the left? Impossible from the party that basked in the economic growth of the con- struction industry and ravages of a planning system back in the 2000s. But it will have to devise a new playbook very quickly, to resolve its hang-ups. That's Delia's job right now. Let the first one with the better plan cast the first stone.

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