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MT 8 May 2017

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maltatoday, MONDAY, 8 MAY 2017 News 9 Simon Busuttil's strengths Honesty Although he might be judged as being somewhat naive Busuttil comes across as a decent and likeable man and his promise of cleaning up Maltese politics sounds as genuine as it is preposterous. "I can promise honesty in politics, something Muscat can't do because he has lost all integrity," Busuttil said last week. By delivering honest poli- cies, Busuttil promises to be "different" both from past Nationalist governments and from the present govern- ment. Busuttil – who still trails Muscat in public opin- ion polls – has for the past four years projected himself as a "different" kind of lead- er. Although honesty is not high up on the electorate's list of priorities, not even the most fervent Labour sup- porter can say that Busuttil is dishonest. This might change along the course of the campaign as Labour will definitely at- tempt to tarnish his reputa- tion. Thanks to his sobriety and cordiality Busuttil has been the most approachable PN leader in recent history and his attempts to build bridges with the media, civil society and former PN voters are ad- mirable. Under his leadership the PN has also bound itself to strict governance standards and addressing the crowds on 1 May, Busuttil said constitu- tional reform would clean up politics once and for all, ensuring state institutions were free to operate as they should. Busuttil's major accom- plishment was to relate good governance to sound eco- nomic, environmental and social policy. Facing criticism that good government may not be enough to win the gener- al election if the economy continues to perform well, Busuttil has underlined the importance of having inde- pendent institutions in en- suring that economic growth does not simply benefit the few. "Without good governance we will not have an economy for the people but an econo- my benefitting the few," Bu- suttil said recently. Making the PN electable again When Busuttil was elected PN leader four years ago few would have thought that he would have a fighting chance to become Prime Minister given the magnitude of the defeat and the shape the PN was in. He inherited a virtually bankrupt party, a largely dispirited grassroots and a party which was still reeling from the divisions exposed by the divorce referendum fiasco. That the PN is back in with a chance despite starting with an 18,000 vote disad- vantage is mostly thanks to Labour's own goals and Pan- amagate. However, despite doubts on his leadership Busuttil has tightened his grip on the PN and after a slow start he has now complete control on the party's internal organs. In his first few months at the helm of the party, Busut- til struggled to assert him- self and there was talk of an internal revolt, especially af- ter losing the 2014 European elections with a similar mar- gin to the 2013 general elec- tion, though the two parties shared the number of candi- dates. But the defeat allowed Bu- suttil to affirm his control on the party and this al- lowed the party to regroup and straighten up the party's finances. Although the PN still lags behind the Labour Party fi- nancially and logistically, Busuttil has transformed the party and has a fight- ing chance to become Prime Minister in four weeks' time. Simon Busuttil's weaknesses Leadership Busuttil has often been ac- cused of lacking personality, boldness, ruthlessness and the leadership qualities to convince people that he can be Prime Minister. He undermined his leader- ship by failing to assert him- self during the first months in office, especially in the civil unions vote in which the opposition abstained. The hunting referendum also exposed his lack of lead- ership in which he voted in favour of the derogation de- spite later saying he is "per- sonally not in favour of bird killing." For Busuttil the challenge is to be perceived as an author- itive rather than authoritar- ian leader. But this depends on other factors including the quality and credibility of his front bench and the advi- sors around him. Also, one of Busuttil's major weaknesses is his dismissive approach towards those who disagree with him. Just as his gentle disposition may be his best character traits, a sense of self-righteousness (often perceived as a sense of supe- riority that is misplaced in view of his party's past bag- gage) is definitely his worst trait. Credibility The PN comes from 25 years of office, which inevi- tably come with a baggage, which weighs heavily on Bu- suttil who is still perceived as a weak leader, a sort of latter-day Sisyphus whose burden is too heav y for him to bring to the top of the mountain. Busuttil's problem most- ly stems from his inability to deal with the two major problems confronting the PN: Muscat's repositioning of his party as a liberal albeit more cronyist version of Ed- die Fenech Adami's Nation- alist Party, and the sheer fact that electoral cycles in Malta tend to condemn losing par- ties to 10 years in opposition. All this goes beyond Busut- til's personal charisma. Muscat has clearly occu- pied the same ideological space associated with past PN governments. When it comes to development poli- cies and privatisation, Mus- cat is more like a Nationalist on steroids than a socialist. Since the PN in essence re- mains a party of the centre right (aligned to the Euro- pean People's Party) there is a limit to how far it can posture itself as centre-left without losing its own au- thenticity. Moreover because of its track record in office, on issues such as the environ- ment, the PN is not benefit- ting from rebellion against Labour's shift to the right. The PN has already spelt its economic vision in a docu- ment presented in 2015, but while the document scored well in terms of a vision for the future, it lacked beef – especially on how wealth would be redistributed un- der a PN government. vs Simon Busuttil fourteenth in Maltese history. How do the two contenders measure up? Jurgen Balzan reports Simon Busuttil Age: 48 Position: Nationalist Party leader since 2013 Previous job: Member of the European Parliament Job before politics: Lawyer, journalist Education: St Aloysius College, University of Malta and University of Sussex Busuttil inherited a bankrupt party still reeling from divisions exposed by the divorce referendum fiasco. That it is back in with a chance is mostly thanks to Labour's own goals

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