A week of tur­moil and ten­sion

When the Na­tion­al­ist Party gath­ers its del­e­gates to­day in its usual bian­nual gen­eral coun­cil, it will do so af­ter a week of in­tense in­ter­nal angst.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

ngrima@in­de­pen­dent.com.mt

Two in­de­pen­dent and un­con­nected opinion surveys came out last Sunday and both agreed on the main find­ings of the polls – that Joseph Mus­cat is still far ahead of Simon Busut­til and that the PN is still be­hind the PL in the polls.

There was also, in both polls, a huge swathe of ‘Don’t Knows’ or ‘Won’t Says’ at this early stage, whereas we all know that elec­tions in Malta usu­ally come down to a close race nor­mally with a lit­tle edge ei­ther way (the ex­cep­tion be­ing 2013). So at some point in the com­ing months, to­day’s ‘Don’t Knows’ and ‘Won’t Says’ will come down on ei­ther side and so de­ter­mine the out­come.

Ever since the re­sults of the polls were an­nounced, Labour sup­port­ers have been crow­ing all over the so­cial me­dia while the Na­tion­al­ist ones, from what I could see, have been vent­ing their anger by harp­ing on about scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and the like.

For weeks and months now, the Labour me­dia has been call­ing the PN leader a leader in neg­a­tiv­ity who sees noth­ing good in what the government is do­ing. Well, the pre-2013 Opposition was not any less neg­a­tive, from what I re­mem­ber. But there must be a rea­son be­hind the polls’ re­sults on the pop­u­lar­ity of the two lead­ers. The more the party strate­gists po­si­tion Dr Busut­til as the sole leader, the more his pop­u­lar­ity seems to de­cline.

The Na­tion­al­ist Party, which was al­ways a party of a group, and which crit­i­cised Dom Mintoff so much for his sole lead­er­ship, some­how be­came a party of a sole leader around the time when Lawrence Gonzi took over from Ed­die Fenech Adami. When Ed­die took over from Ge­orge Borg Olivier, it was more a col­lec­tive lead­er­ship that later dwin­dled, as one af­ter another the mem­bers of that early col­lec­tive lead­er­ship be­came Pres­i­dents.

To be fair, Dr Busut­til has been pro­mot­ing a sort of col­lec­tive lead­er­ship but ei­ther his group has not yet made its mark or else they col­lec­tively do not add up to much.

I think peo­ple are giv­ing too much im­por­tance to the unique 37,000 ma­jor­ity ob­tained by Dr Mus­cat in 2013. By then, the PN had run its leg­isla­tive course, had run out of ideas, was rocked by in­ternecine feuds and needed, re­ally needed, a time on the Opposition benches.

It was clear that Labour was go­ing to win, so what hap­pened was a band­wagon ef­fect.

But, fun­da­men­tally, Malta re­mains a two-party state and the two par­ties al­ter­nate in government. The long, hege­monic, 25 years PN spent in government from 1987 to 2013, bar two years, have co­gent rea­sons be­hind them; nor­mally, al­ter­na­tion rules.

There was a time, in Mintoff’s early years, when the par­ties di­vided them­selves ac­cord­ing to so­cial class – with the PN be­ing for the ‘edukati’, Sliema types, English-speak­ing, and Labour rep­re­sent­ing the South and the pro­le­tariat. There is no such ide­o­log­i­cal split be­tween the par­ties to­day. Both are cen­trist par­ties that dis­agree on the char­ac­ter of the leader.

So the prin­ci­ple of al­ter­na­tion means that the PN is never far from be­ing in government. If not this time, then maybe the next.

At to­day’s event, the party leader will pull out all the stops and the crowd will ap­plaud wildly. The rest of the coun­try will look on and con­sider. The government spin ma­chine will swing into ac­tion to down­play any­thing that the Leader of the Opposition will have said, but oth­er­wise, life goes on as it has al­ways done. Not so in the big, wide, world.

The hell that is called Aleppo sinks more and more into bar­barism. The new Pres­i­dent of the United States has be­gun to im­ple­ment what he promised the elec­torate and those who thought th­ese were just flights of rhetoric now re­alise that they are real com­mit­ments.

But here, in this mi­nus­cule state that in a month’s time be­comes the Pres­i­dent of the EU, the two main, and al­most only, par­ties bat­tle it out with­out any re­straint or sense of pro­por­tion. It is as if this is the only bat­tle worth hav­ing.

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